Age catches up with everyone. And in cricket and other professional sports, age is considered a criterion for selection in playing XI. Retirement question hounds a player if he is above 35 years unless he keeps performing consistently. But once his performance dips, he is hounded by retirement talks. MS Dhoni is the new victim to this thinking.
Dhoni came under much fire after his laboured knocks of 37 and 42 in the ODI series against England recently. He struggled to force the pace and rotate the strike while the big hits eluded him. Dhoni was booed by the Indian fans during the first ODI at Lord’s for playing an uncharacteristic knock of 37. Dhoni’s 42 in third ODI was not convincing either. His two knocks came at a strike rate of 62.71 and 63.63, which is unacceptable in ODIs.
And now, he faces another tough test when he mans the middle-order in Asia Cup, with selectors watching his performance with keen eyes. A good show in Asia Cup will give a boost to his confidence and chances of playing in 2019 World Cup.
Dhoni’s decline in strike rate last few seasons
But over the past couple of seasons, Dhoni has turned into a Test batsman in limited-overs cricket. His big hits have eluded him. (The IPL 2018 was an exception though where he powered CSK to their third title) His strike rate over the last few seasons confirms his waning form with the bat.
Dhoni enjoys a career strike rate of 88.13. His strike rate for the first four calendar years of his ODI career (2004 to 2007) never fell below 89. In his 15-year-old international career in ODIs, his strike rate in calendar year fell below 89 only 7 times, including the last four calendar years.
It implies Dhoni’s decreasing ability to play at run-a-ball in ODIs and rotate the strike. Batting lower down the order has not helped his cause much. But despite this, his poor strike rate can be attributed to his decreasing stature as a finisher in limited-overs cricket.
2018 worst for Dhoni
In fact, the ongoing calendar year is the worst for MS Dhoni who has a strike rate of 70.47 in 9 ODIs with a highest score of 42* so far.
In July 2017, he laboured his way to 114-ball 54 with just one four against West Indies at North Sound as India lost the match by 11 runs.
But this was just a tip of the iceberg. Over the past three seasons, there have been numerous instances when Dhoni has failed to force the pace, putting undue pressure on his partner in the middle to go for the big hits.
A case in point is the Kandy ODI against Sri Lanka in 2017 when Bhuvneshwar Kumar outshone Dhoni to help India escape defeat. India were down and out at 131/7 before Bhuvi-Dhon’s unbeaten century stand rescued the team. Bhuvi struck 4 fours and one six in his 53*, while Dhoni managed just one four in his 45*.
Dhoni’s decreasing strike-rate in ODIs tells a story of its own. Check out the following stats: Dhoni’s strike rate in first three calendar years (2004-2006) – 135.71, 103.11 and 92.97. Here’s Dhoni’s strike rate in the last three calendar years (2016-2018) – 80.11, 84.73 and 70.47. The numbers tell the decline of Dhoni from pinch hitter to an ageing warhorse who’s struggling to even play at run-a-ball and rotate the strike in ODIs.
But good strike rate in T20Is
But surprisingly, Dhoni’s strike rate in T20Is during the same period (2016-2018) has been above 138, while he averages above 40s at the same time. His form in IPL 2018 was also impressive, providing his team CSK with finishing touches on numerous occasions.
It’s the Dhoni in ODIs who is struggling at the moment. It’s strange as ODIs give more time to plan an innings and build your score. Maybe Dhoni should employ his similar strategy of bang-bang in T20 cricket in ODIs as well.