He may be under pressure as a captain but as a finisher lower down the batting order,Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is considered one of the best in ODI cricket even by his rivals.
There is compelling evidence by way of figures and comparison that Dhoni is a class finisher. Add to this the mix 189 catches,63 stumpings,countless run-outs and captaincy to boot.
Sri Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardene was left shaking his head in disbelief last night when Dhoni snatched a tie.
“One inch here and there and a guy like Dhoni could take you apart. He is a great finisher,he is cool and calm and backs himself. He is a strong character.”
Figures present the strongest claim in its support. Dhoni has been unbeaten in 30 of India’s 49 successful chases and scored runs at an average of 104.89 in them. The best in the business,Michael Bevan,Lance Klusener,Abdul Razzaq and Jonty Rhodes,are nowhere close. In his 200 matches,Dhoni has been unbeaten 50 times or in every fourth innings of his career. With 44 fifties and seven century,Dhoni is scoring at least a half century in every four innings.
He averages 51.41 for his 6632 runs with a strike rate of 88.32. Bevan betters him in average — 53.58 — but his strike rate of 74.16 lets him down. Yuvraj Singh has a similar strike rate — 87.60 — but then his average of 37.62 is nowhere near.
Australian captain Michael Clarke was left ruing his team’s fate after Dhoni chased down the 13 runs required in the final over on Sunday.
“Dhoni is a class player. His statistics show it. He is a very good striker of the ball and you saw that in the last over with that six he hit off McKay,” said Clarke.
Dhoni,however,is awestruck by the vitality of Yuvraj as a finisher.
“The only one consistent lower down the order was Yuvraj Singh at number six. It’s a very difficult position to bat,” Dhoni has said.
Indeed,no job in one-day cricket is as difficult as that of a finisher. The player ought to be able to hit big yet be capable of manoeuvring the field with deft placements. He
needs to be an excellent judge of a run and must have the speed to convert a single into a brace.
Most of the time,the run-rate is climbing,the best bowlers are back in operation and the field is strategically placed.
There is frustration when the lower-half isn’t able to rotate the strike. Risk is ever present.
Dhoni,over the years,has worked out a method. First and foremost,he’s cool at all times. He isn’t premeditated. He directed his partner Ravi Ashwin to square up to the threat of a yorker from Lasith Malinga yesterday.
“Malinga has a yorker and a very good slower one which he disguises very well. It’s difficult for the lower order to pick him up consistently. All I said (to Ashwin) was to wait for the ball but don’t plan for a yorker. If you see it,then react to it.”
“Basically you keep the mind blank. For example,Malinga can bowl yorkers at will. It’s important to be blank and back yourself to hit those for runs. You see the ball and look to hit it,” Dhoni said.
Barely 10 months old in international cricket,Dhoni once smashed 183 off 145 balls with 15 fours and 10 sixes against Sri Lanka in Jaipur in 2005.
His early flamboyance has given way to nudges and pushes and big hits are rare-he has only hit two sixes in the present series-yet his strike-rate doesn’t suffer by way of comparison.
Men like Adam Gilchrist (96.95),Viv Richards (90.20) and Kapil Dev (95.07) have better strike-rates than Dhoni. A few like Sachin Tendulkar (18,176),Sanath Jayasuriya (13,430) and Ricky Ponting (13,695) would always remain out of his reach by way of runs.
But it’s difficult to think if these legends could have donned as many hats as Dhoni does-a batsman,keeper,captain and a finisher,and done as well over a period of time.
He also hardly misses a game.