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Move Dhoni up the order

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MS_Dhoni_India_ODI_CricketAll the hullabaloo surrounding the ODI massacre of South Africa in their own backyard has died down. As India prepare for another show of power in the Nidahas T20 tri-series involving Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, one question mark lingers in the minds of many followers of Indian cricket - have they resolved the middle-order dilemma?

 

The resounding, impactful, confident voices of Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri ring in your ears even as you immerse yourself into the statistics of India's impressive run since the Champions Trophy. Of the 6,561 runs India have made in ODIs since the 2017 tournament, 3,667 have come off the bats of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan alone.

 

55.89% of all runs India have made since the Champions Trophy have come from three players, all of them from the top three. This is without counting the runs Ajinkya Rahane or Lokesh Rahul made at the top of the order.

The three Indian batsmen unsurprisingly occupy the top three places in the overall run-scorer's list since June 2017. One man just outside the top 5 in that list is MS Dhoni, the only batsman in the middle-order who has steadied the ship at times with his defiant knocks.

Yet, the question remains as to how much that middle-order batsman has contributed to a win for India in these few months. More often than not, the compelling form of the trio at the top has masked India’s middle-order woes.

The no.4 spot has for long been the subject of debate and none of the batsmen tried there - Yuvraj Singh, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik or Ajinkya Rahane - have been able to cement their spot in the side at that position.

This brings us to MS Dhoni. Why wouldn't Kohli and the management want Dhoni in the top four? After all, once he gets time to settle down, Dhoni can become an intimidating batsman to bowl at as the 2011 World Cup final showed.

Yet, that was seven years ago. The Dhoni of today is no longer the class-apart, fabulous finisher that he once was. One major factor which pegs him back is his strike rate, which stands at an appalling 79.82 since the Champions Trophy in England, a marked difference from his career strike rate of 88.4.

Take a glance at India's losses since the Champions Trophy - five of them - and how the middle-order (positions 4-7) has fared. You realise that they have been shoddy, to say the least, but Dhoni yet again stands out in terms of runs.

 

Match

Runs at fall of 2nd wicket

Over at fall of 2nd wicket

Run rate till fall of 2nd wicket

Overs played out by middle-order

Final team runs

Innings - target if any & result

Run rate after fall of 2nd wicket

Batsmen involved from 4-7

Major contributor(s) from top 3

WI - North Sound - Jul 2017

25

6

4.16

43.4

178

2nd - 190 - lost

3.52

Karthik 2 (19)

Dhoni 54 (114)

Jadhav 10 (14)

Pandya 20 (21)

Rahane 60 (91)

Aus - Bengaluru - Sep 2017

135

22.2

6.08

27.4

313

2nd - 335 - lost

6.49

Pandya 41 (40)

Jadhav 67 (69)

Pandey 33 (25)

Dhoni 13 (10)

Rohit 65 (55)

NZ - Mumbai - Oct 2017

29

5.4

5.37

44.2

280

1st - n/a - lost

5.67

Jadhav 12 (25)

Karthik 37 (47)

Dhoni 25 (42)

Pandya 16 (16)

Kohli 121 ( 125)

SL - Dharamsala - Dec 2017

2

4.1

0.48

34.1

112

1st - n/a -lost

3.22

Karthik 0 (18)

Pandey 2 (15)

Dhoni 65 (87)

Pandya 10 (10)

No major contributor

SA - Jo'burg - Feb 2018

178

31.1

5.72

18.5

289

1st - n/a- lost

6

Rahane 8 (15)

Iyer 18 (21)

Dhoni 42 (43)

Pandya 9 (13)

Dhawan 109 (105)

Kohli 75 (83)

 

In two of the five matches, Dhoni made a half-century and in one of them he made 42 in 43 (against South Africa at Johannesburg) when barely anybody else contributed after the dismissals of Dhawan and Kohli.

One thing that immediately catches your eye is Dhoni's strike rate. At North Sound against West Indies, Dhoni made 54 in a shocking 114 balls, the second slowest fifty by an Indian in ODIs. He played out a mind-boggling 44 dot balls between the 21st and 40th over of that innings.

At Mumbai against New Zealand, Dhoni was yet again slow to get off the blocks and made 25 in 42 balls, with the team run rate post the second wicket standing at 5.67. They could well have set a much higher target for the Kiwis had Dhoni scored at a better rate.

The Dharamsala knock could be forgiven as it came with India down and out against some spectacular Lankan bowling on a green wicket. The important factor in that match is that Dhoni walked in to bat in the 13th over despite coming in at no.6.

This is a sign for the Indian management. India do not normally lose four wickets within 15 overs. As such, Dhoni is more often than not relaxing in the dressing room until the 35th or 40th over.

The fall in strike rate is telling of how he needs time to settle down at the crease, more so now than before. Another example in this regard is his half-century in the second T20I at Centurion. Dhoni crawled to 28 in 20 balls before a scything attack at the death took him to 52 in 28 balls, a whopping 17 runs coming in the last 5 balls.

This is exactly what Dhoni is good at. Settling down and then digging into the bowlers. Coming in at 5 or 6, he spends little time at the crease (particularly with Dhawan - Rohit - Kohli consistently in stunning form) and finds it tough to get going from the word go. Consequently, he scores at a strike rate much lower than what is required. A promotion in the batting order could work wonders for Dhoni and the team.

 

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