India in England 2014

Is Dhoni India's best-ever captain?

A stats analysis of MS Dhoni's captaincy record across formats

Bishen Jeswant

September 4, 2014

Comments: 115 | Text size: A | A

MS Dhoni has won more Tests, ODIs and T20Is than any other Indian captain © AFP

After winning the fourth ODI against England at Edgbaston, MS Dhoni surpassed Mohammad Azharuddin to become the Indian captain to have achieved the most ODI victories. Dhoni is also India's most successful captain in Tests and T20Is, making it a good time to look back at Dhoni's captaincy career and analyse whether he can be considered India's best captain.

Dhoni in ODIs

While Azhar, the earlier record holder, had 90 wins from 174 matches, Dhoni has 91 wins from from 12 fewer ODIs - 162. In all, there have been seven Indian captains who have won 10 or more ODIs. The table below offers a quick look at their records.

Indian captains - ODI record
Captain Mat Won Lost Tied NR Win %*
M Azharuddin 174 90 76 2 6 54.22
MS Dhoni 162 91 57 4 10 61.49
SC Ganguly 146 76 65 0 5 53.90
R Dravid 79 42 33 0 4 56.00
N Kapil Dev 74 39 33 0 2 54.17
SR Tendulkar 73 23 43 1 6 34.85
SM Gavaskar 37 14 21 0 2 40.00
*ODIs where there was no result and those that ended in ties have been excluded for Win%.

Dhoni's win percentage of 61.5 is clearly head and shoulders above the rest, with Rahul Dravid being the next best. Dhoni has therefore not only won the most matches, but has also done it more frequently than any of his predecessors. During Dhoni's stint, India have won almost every ODI tournament of note, including the Asia Cup in 2010, the World Cup in 2011 and the Champions Trophy in 2013. However, if there is one criticism against Dhoni, it is that his ODI campaigns outside Asia have been less successful than those in familiar conditions.

Indian captains - ODI records outside Asia
Captain Mat Won Lost Tied NR Win %
SC Ganguly 68 39 27 0 2 59.09
MS Dhoni 57 25 22 3 7 53.19
M Azharuddin 63 23 36 1 3 38.98
N Kapil Dev 25 13 12 0 0 52.00
R Dravid 23 10 13 0 0 43.48

While MS Dhoni does have some creditable wins outside Asia, such as the Champions Trophy in England and the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia, his win percentage drops in ODIs outside Asia. Dhoni's win percentage in the subcontinent is 65%, which drops to 53% outside Asia. Sourav Ganguly, on the other hand, has a win percentage of 49% in Asia, but a significantly better 59% outside the subcontinent. However, Ganguly only has a solitary trophy outside Asia, the NatWest Series in 2002, despite taking the team to eight finals. Dhoni, on the other hand, has a 100% record in finals outside Asia winning all four that he has captained in - the Champions Trophy, the West Indies Tri-Nation series and the Commonwealth Bank series (two finals). This table lists Indian captains who have won the most finals, at home and away.

Indian captains - Record in ODI finals
Captain Mat Won Lost Tied NR Win %
M Azharuddin 19 11 8 0 0 57.89
MS Dhoni 11 7 4 0 0 63.64
N Kapil Dev 5 2 3 0 0 40.00
SC Ganguly 14 1 10 0 3 9.09
SR Tendulkar 6 1 3 0 2 25.00

Azhar took the team to 19 finals, while Ganguly took the team to 14. However, Azhar managed 11 victories, while Ganguly could squeeze out only one. The high number of finals in which Azhar and Ganguly captained is partly down to the fact that they played at a time when triangulars and quadrangulars were at the peak of their popularity. Azhar captained in four finals against Sri Lanka, winning all four, while Ganguly led in five against them but won none. Dhoni has captained the team to only 11 finals in comparison, but has won seven of those, giving him a win percentage of 64, the highest among Indian captains who have led in more than one ODI final. The table below compares Dhoni with other captains who have led their country in at least 100 ODIs.

Individuals who have captained in at least 100 ODIs
Captain Mat Won Lost Tied NR Win %
RT Ponting 230 165 51 2 12 76.39
WJ Cronje 138 99 35 1 3 73.88
SR Waugh 106 67 35 3 1 65.69
IVA Richards 105 67 36 0 2 65.05
GC Smith 150 92 51 1 6 64.34
Wasim Akram 109 66 41 2 0 61.68
AR Border 178 107 67 1 3 61.49
MS Dhoni 162 91 57 4 10 61.49
DPMD Jayawardene 129 71 49 1 8 59.17
ST Jayasuriya 118 66 47 2 3 58.41
Imran Khan 139 75 59 1 4 55.97
M Azharuddin 174 90 76 2 6 54.22
SC Ganguly 147 76 66 0 5 53.52
BC Lara 125 59 59 0 7 50.00
A Ranatunga 193 89 95 1 8 48.37
SP Fleming 218 98 106 1 13 48.04
*ODIs where there was no result and those that ended in ties have been excluded while computing the Win%.

While Dhoni's win percentage is not comparable with that of Ricky Ponting or Hansie Cronje, the numbers indicate that he is certainly in the league of Steve Waugh, Graeme Smith and Allan Border, statistically. What must also be factored in is that Dhoni probably captained teams that did not have a bowling attack of the quality that some of the above mentioned captains were fortunate to have. In addition to captaining the side, he performs the arduous task of keeping wickets as well, and is the only captain-keeper, apart from Kumar Sangakkara, to have scored more than 500 runs and effected more than 50 dismissals in ODI cricket.

Dhoni in Tests and T20Is

In the fifth Test against England at The Oval, Dhoni equalled Ganguly's record for most away Tests as India captain, 28. Dhoni's Test captaincy has come under far more scrutiny than his ODI captaincy, especially as the away losses have piled up. A quick look at how his overall record in comparison with other captains who have led India in at least 25 Tests.

Indian captains - Test record
Captain Mat Won Lost Tied Draw W/L ratio Win %
MS Dhoni 58 27 17 0 14 1.59 46.55
SC Ganguly 49 21 13 0 15 1.62 42.86
M Azharuddin 47 14 14 0 19 1.00 29.79
SM Gavaskar 47 9 8 0 30 1.13 19.15
MAK Pataudi 40 9 19 0 12 0.47 22.50
N Kapil Dev 34 4 7 1 22 0.57 11.76
R Dravid 25 8 6 0 11 1.33 32.00
SR Tendulkar 25 4 9 0 12 0.44 16.00

Dhoni is the only captain to lead India in more than 50 Tests. India have won 27 Tests under him, which is six more than the next best, Ganguly. However Ganguly has the better win-loss ratio. Dhoni still wins a greater percentage of his Tests though, which only means that Ganguly had a greater percentage of draws. Dhoni has been heavily criticised for his Test captaincy record outside the subcontinent. A look at the records of India captains who have led the team in at least ten Tests outside the subcontinent, except Zimbabwe.

Indian captains - Record outside Asia
Captain Mat Won Lost Tied Draw W/L ratio Win % Loss % Draw %
R Dravid 10 3 2 0 5 1.50 30.00 20.00 50.00
N Kapil Dev 11 2 2 0 7 1.00 18.18 18.18 63.64
Al Wadekar 11 2 3 0 6 0.66 18.18 27.27 54.55
SM Gavaskar 10 2 3 0 5 0.66 20.00 30.00 50.00
BS Bedi 11 3 6 0 2 0.50 27.27 54.55 18.18
SC Ganguly 17 3 7 0 7 0.42 17.65 41.18 41.18
MS Dhoni 24 4 13 0 7 0.31 16.67 54.17 29.17
MAK Pataudi 13 3 10 0 0 0.30 23.08 76.92 0.00
M Azharuddin 21 0 9 0 12 0.00 0.00 42.86 57.14
SR Tendulkar 11 0 6 0 5 0.00 0.00 54.55 45.45

Despite winning four Tests, more than any other Indian captain, Dhoni's win-loss ratio is a dismal 0.3 and worse than many of the captains in the above table. While Ganguly has only won three Tests, his win-loss ratio is 0.42 as he lost only seven Tests, compared to Dhoni's 13. Dhoni has seemed to be unable to eke out draws in Tests that are unwinnable. Even Azhar, who didn't have a single victory in these conditions, managed to draw 57% of his Tests, while the corresponding percentage for Dhoni is 29. The Indian captain with the most impressive record may well be Dravid, who is the only captain to have won more Tests than he has lost in these circumstances, including Test victories in England, South Africa and West Indies.

A comparison of Dhoni with other subcontinent captains who have led their countries in at least ten Tests outside the subcontinent, shows that nobody has won more Tests than Dhoni, but that Dhoni has also lost more Tests than other captains. The five subcontinent captains with the best win-loss ratios under the said circumstances are all from Pakistan. Only Arjuna Ranatunga and Intikhab Alam have a win-loss ratio worse than Dhoni's.

Asian captains - Records outside Asia
Captain Mat Won Lost Tied Draw W/L ratio Win %
Mushtaq Mohammad 13 4 4 0 5 1.00 30.77
Javed Miandad 12 4 5 0 3 0.80 33.33
Imran Khan 18 3 5 0 10 0.60 16.67
Wasim Akram 13 4 7 0 2 0.57 30.77
Inzamam-ul-Haq 12 3 7 0 2 0.43 25.00
DPMD Jayawardene 12 3 8 0 1 0.38 25.00
MS Dhoni 24 4 13 0 7 0.31 16.67
A Ranatunga 16 2 8 0 6 0.25 12.50
Intikhab Alam 12 1 4 0 7 0.25 8.33

While Dhoni's captaincy may be criticised for the losses outside the subcontinent, he has usually fought valiantly with the bat before India have slid to defeat. Some innings that come to mind are his 90 in Centurion in 2010 and his 74* at Edgbaston in 2011. Even during the recent losses at Old Trafford and The Oval, Dhoni showed some resistance with scores of 71 and 82 respectively.

Dhoni Test batting - outside Asia
Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave 100 50 0
In Losses 13 26 2 769 90 32.04 0 7 2
In Wins 4 7 0 139 47 19.85 0 0 1

Depending on how you look at it, you could either say that Dhoni sticks it out when the chips are down, or that he only scores easy and meaningless runs when the writing is already on the wall.

Dhoni's legacy will always be tested through comparisons with other captains from across the world. The table below looks at the win percentages of individuals who have captained in at least 50 Tests.

Individuals who have captained in at least 50 Tests
Captain Mat Won Lost Tied Draw W/L ratio Win %
SR Waugh 57 41 9 0 7 4.55 71.93
RT Ponting 77 48 16 0 13 3.00 62.34
IVA Richards 50 27 8 0 15 3.37 54.00
MA Taylor 50 26 13 0 11 2.00 52.00
MP Vaughan 51 26 11 0 14 2.36 50.98
WJ Cronje 53 27 11 0 15 2.45 50.94
CH Lloyd 74 36 12 0 26 3.00 48.65
GC Smith 109 53 29 0 27 1.82 48.62
AJ Strauss 50 24 11 0 15 2.18 48.00
MS Dhoni 58 27 17 0 14 1.58 46.55
SP Fleming 80 28 27 0 25 1.03 35.00
AR Border 93 32 22 1 38 1.45 34.41
MA Atherton 54 13 21 0 20 0.61 24.07
A Ranatunga 56 12 19 0 25 0.63 21.43

The numbers show that Steve Waugh was the best captain, at least statistically. He won 72% of his matches and had a win-loss ratio of 4.55, far better than the others. Dhoni has a win percentage of 46.6, which is comparable, statistically, to the likes of Clive Llyod and Graeme Smith. Allan Border's win-loss ratio is, in fact, poorer than Dhoni's. The win-loss ratio of India, as a country, over the years has been 0.79, with a win percentage of 25. India's numbers under Dhoni, in both respects, are significantly superior. For context, Australia's win-loss ratio over the years is 1.77, while their win percentage is 46.9. Australian captains will therefore need to do more than their India counterparts to remain on par with their country's performance through history. Dhoni's win percentage of 46.6 is far greater than India's 25% over the years, and even comparable to Australia's 46.9%.

In T20Is, India have mostly been led by Dhoni, thereby not allowing for much comparison.

Indian captains - Record in T20Is
Captain Mat Won Loss Tied NR
MS Dhoni 48 26 20 1 1
SK Raina 3 3 0 0 0
V Sehwag 1 1 0 0 0

In fact, even across countries, Dhoni has played and won most matches as captain in T20Is. Dhoni had even taken India to victory in the inaugural edition of the World T20 and to the final of the latest edition, though India fared disappointingly in the intervening World T20s.

World captains - Record in T20Is
Captain Mat Won Lost Tied NR
MS Dhoni 48 26 20 1 1
WTS Porterfield 37 20 14 0 3
DJG Sammy 36 19 14 1 2
GC Smith 27 18 9 0 0
PD Collingwood 30 17 11 0 2
Mohammad Hafeez 29 17 11 1 0

If Dhoni can improve his overseas Test record, assuming he will have the opportunity to do so, he will make an almost irrefutably strong claim to being India's best captain. If not, Ganguly definitely makes a case to be considered India's best captain in overseas conditions, while Dravid's Test captaincy record outside Asia has been impressive as well, though with a much smaller sample set for comparison.

Bishen Jeswant is a stats sub editor at ESPNcricinfo. @bishen_jeswant

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (September 8, 2014, 1:35 GMT)

India still has to see a better test captain. I have never seen MS Dhoni coming to face the new ball in any format and thats why his average is better that most top batsman. Dhoni is good ODI batsman as he comes to bat when bowlers are tired.

Posted by   on (September 7, 2014, 7:20 GMT)

Without a doubt,,, MSD is the bast Captain India ever had.

Posted by RAAJ101 on (September 5, 2014, 16:28 GMT)

Azhar had two stints of captainship and in between these two sitnts Sachin was the captain and we all know how sachin fared. Remember a team like Sri Lanka. They had Sanath Jayasriya and Kalu WItharna. Arjuna Ranatunga and Arvind DSilva Remember Desmond Haynes, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Anwar they were killers in their hey days. Remember Vivian Richards Remeber Martin Crowe and Richard Hadlee Remember Courtney Walsh, Ambrose, Glenn McGreath, Imran khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Yunis etc. They were all during Azhar captaincy and not Ganguly or Dhoni.

Posted by SPSD on (September 5, 2014, 16:10 GMT)

Comparing Dhoni with Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, Ponting and Richards is in itself a pride for him. Look at the team that S, M, P & R had compared to D.

Again with Ganguly you had the Master, Wall, strokeful sehwag and dada himself - all in their prime. Dont forget Kumble, Harbhajan and Zaheer as well.

But one thing i would like our professional cricketers to follow - It is good to take a break and return to the field. Board should encourage that - it is difficult to meet expectations of the Indian public and media to be consistently performing on the field - 365 days in a year!! We need to be better prepared for the Australian series else Johnson is going to be pelting us with the kookaburra.

Posted by Kays789 on (September 5, 2014, 14:57 GMT)

Not too difficult to be the best captain of a team like India. They have been woeful for much of their history with a few lucky breaks in the recent past in ODIs. Now if you're talking about an australian or a west indies captain that may be a discussion of some substance.

Posted by icehottopes on (September 5, 2014, 14:55 GMT)

One should also look at the quality of oppositions around the world during the eras they played. Ganguly played against quality oppositions who had very good batsman and bowlers like Sri Lanka, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Zimbabwe in the early 2000s and the world beaters Australia who were a once in a generation team. Even west indies were very competitive during this period. All these teams have declined in quality (many of them abysmally) and Dhoni is currently battling against these teams. Ganguly faced fiercer, tougher oppositions who had more balanced attacks in a wide variety of conditions and the Indian team was respected world over. Today it is being ridiculed (especially in the test arena) and the test numbers don't matter if you're being looked down upon because of your incompetence playing lower quality oppositions. With Ganguly when India lost, they fought hard and weren't called sub continent bullies. With Dhoni one can clearly see tame submission.

Posted by Retour on (September 5, 2014, 14:38 GMT)

We should not judge captaincy by pure numbers. There are both tangibles and intangibles associated with captaincy. Crossing the first hurdle is usually the toughest so Kapil Dev taking Ind to its first WC win should not be discounted. How under Ganguly, Ind started winning overseas should not be forgotten. How Gavaskar tries to saves games without much resources should not be overlooked. And there was Pataudi who many captains rate as amongst the best captains!

How many in India use stats always amazes me. If X has 8000 runs in 100 tests, and Y has 7000 runs in 80 tests. X would be considered better even though he has only scored 1000 more runs after playing 20 more tests! Sadly, this is how it works in Ind, more runs or wkts or catches (ignoring number of the games/innings) decides the winner. An unfortunate case of quantity over quality.

Posted by   on (September 5, 2014, 11:39 GMT)

without doubt Dhoni is the best captain india had ever had. these stats will only tell you half of the story.

Posted by RAAJ101 on (September 5, 2014, 11:05 GMT)

In the recent past Dhoni has been a big failure in all formats and we cannot forget the Bangladesh Asia cups and the T20 world cups. World cups of the past was heroics of Irfan Pthan Yuvraj and Gambhir

Posted by himsez on (September 5, 2014, 9:40 GMT)

Everything will be all clear when India will get kicked out of the next world cup. Till then there i no point in arguing with dhoni. He cant get replaced. So we have to understand that this world cup is not going to return to India.

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