The opinion is divided. Loyalists say he should stay and play till the 2020 World T20 in Australia and be given the freedom to retire at his own time while others are of the opinion that he is past his peak and should have called it a day few years back. Yet some others want him to be axed based on his numbers post the 2015 World Cup and his ability and ‘intent’ to hit the long ball in the death overs – evidence of which or the lack of it we saw in the recently concluded World Cup.
First, let us get this out of the way – Dhoni is an all-time great of the game.
He is a legendary ODI batsman – among the greatest of all-time in the format. 10773 runs in 297 innings at an average of 50.57 and strike rate of 87.56 including 10 hundreds and 73 fifties – these are phenomenal numbers especially for a batsman who has batted at number 5 or below for a majority of his career.
Dhoni belongs to a select club-50 of just 7 batsmen in ODI cricket history – batsmen who average above 50 (min. 40 ODIs and 1000 runs).
He has led India to victory in three major world tournaments – 2007 World T20, 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy.
He has also been a T20 great for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) having led them to three IPL and two Champions League T20 titles. He has the highest average for CSK and a strike rate in excess of 140.
But here is the problem.
Dhoni has never been a T20I great. He has, for some reason, not been able to replicate his success with the bat when playing for India.
He has scored just 1617 runs in 85 T20I innings. His average of 37.6 is inflated by the 42 ‘not-outs’ in his career. If we consider his Actual Average (Runs Scored per innings), it is a poor 19.02. He has registered just two fifties in his career and his strike rate of 126.13 is almost 14 points lower than his strike rate for CSK. Furthermore, his strike rate from number 5 or 6, from where he batted in a majority of his career innings, is the fourth-lowest among the 23 batsmen who have scored a minimum of 400 runs from these positions in T20I cricket.
Dhoni’s boundaries per innings batting ratio of 1.98 in T20I cricket is significantly lower than his ratio of almost 3 when he has batted for CSK.
His strike rate in the death overs (17-20) in T20I cricket since 2017 has been just 125. It is the lowest among all batsmen (positions 1-7) in the format (min. 200 runs) in the time period.
The bigger issue for Dhoni, however, has been his recent record in ODI cricket.
Dhoni’s fortunes have dwindled since the 2015 World Cup. 2016 and 2018 were the worst years for him in terms of run-scoring – he aggregated just 278 runs from 10 innings in 2016 (average of 27.8) and 275 runs from 13 in 2018 (average of 25).
Although he bounced back and averaged 60.61 in 2017 and again has an average of 60 in 2019, it is his strike rate, which has been a huge cause of concern in the last 4 years. It hasn’t crossed 85 in any calendar year in this period and fell to a shocking 71.42 in 2018.
Among the 31 batsmen who have scored a minimum of 300 runs from positions 5 and 6, since 2016, Dhoni’s strike rate of 81.25 places him at Number 25.
Dhoni is not the same hitter he was before 2016. He is not the same finisher he once was. His strike rate in death (overs 40-50) since 2017 is just 119.28 – which is quite average for the slog overs. In fact, for a minimum of 300 runs, his strike rate at the death (for positions 1 to 7) is the second-lowest after Mahmudullah.
The problem for Dhoni is two-fold. Neither is he hitting the boundaries nor is he able to rotate the strike which puts a lot of pressure on the non-striker to increase the tempo. His dot-ball percentage of 34.64% in the death overs is the fourth-highest among recognized batsmen whereas his boundary percentage in this phase of play of 48.23% is the fourth-lowest.
Overall, in his entire innings, since 2017, Dhoni has a dot-ball percentage of 50.78% – which basically means that he is unable to score of more than half the number of deliveries he faces. Given that he bats at Number 5 and 6, these are very poor returns.
It does not come as a surprise then that Dhoni, once the best ODI chaser in the world, is no longer able to finish the job for India. His average in chases fell to 25 and his strike rate dropped to 64.43 in 2018.
Although Dhoni has scored 404 runs from 8 innings in chases in 2019, his strike rate of 76.66 remains a massive concern. He failed to take India home in two of its biggest matches post 2015 – both in the 2019 World Cup – in Birmingham against England and in Manchester in the semi-final against New Zealand.
Dhoni is way past his prime for India. He has been one of the greatest India has ever produced but his spot can no longer be assumed to be as secure as it has been for well over a decade.
On Friday, when the selectors name the squad for West Indies more clarity may be forthcoming.