February 22, 2008

The new and improved Mahendra Singh Dhoni

When Mahendra Singh Dhoni first burst onto the international scene, he was known for his six-hitting, but over the last couple of years his batting has changed considerably

Dhoni has adapted his game superbly to the needs of the team over the last couple of years © AFP

When Mahendra Singh Dhoni first burst onto the international scene in December 2004, the excitement was palpable, mainly because of Dhoni's reputation as an immense six-hitter. Just five matches into his career, he proved that the hype was entirely justified, smacking the Pakistan bowlers all around the park on the way to a 123-ball 148. A few months later, Sri Lanka were utterly helpless as Dhoni pummelled an unbeaten 183 off 145. Along the way, he created a new Indian record for most number of sixes in an ODI innings, with ten monstrous hits over the boundary. A new Indian star had well and truly arrived.

Fast forward to Feb 2008. With India struggling to overhaul Sri Lanka's 238 in a crucial CB Series match, Dhoni knuckled down, eschewed the risks, ran like a hare between the wickets, and finished with a match-winning unbeaten 50 from 68 balls, without a single boundary, becoming only the fourth Indian batsman to score more than 50 in an ODI without finding the boundary even once.

His latest effort wasn't a one-off either. Over the last year or so, Dhoni's methods have changed distinctly from one which would attack the bowling irrespective of the situation of the match, to one which is carefully tailored to suit the needs of the team. In his first two years in international cricket, Dhoni was the ultimate cavalier, scoring at nearly a run a ball, and getting more than 50% of his runs in boundaries. In the last year, he has graduated into a far more mature batsman, gathering his runs with greater care - the reliance on boundaries has come down significantly, despite which the strike rate remains impressive. In the last five months, when he has taken over as captain, the difference is even starker.

The different shades of Dhoni
Period ODIs Runs Average Strike rate 4s/ 6s % boundary runs
Till Dec 2006 59 1735 43.37 98.3 150/ 55 53.60
From Jan 2007 43 1363 48.67 86.0 97/ 24 39.03
As captain 18 621 51.75 79.92 41/ 8 34.14

The table below compares the manner in which Dhoni has gathered his runs. In his early days he played more dot balls, but the more significant difference is the break-up of his run-scoring deliveries: pre 2007, he struck boundaries off more than 11% of the deliveries he faced; the last year has seen a 35% decrease in that figure. Similarly, his ability to find the gaps and run hard has meant a much higher percentage of deliveries going for singles, twos and threes.

Break-up of balls faced by Dhoni in ODIs
Period Dot ball % 1s, 2s, 3s % Boundary %
Till Dec 2006 50.33 38.24 11.43
From Jan 2007 48.05 44.47 7.48

In six games in the CB Series so far, Dhoni has scored 260 runs at an excellent average, but only 46 of those runs have come in boundaries (10 fours and a six), which converts to a measly 17.69%. Among all series in which he scored at least 100 runs, only once has he scored a lesser percentage of his runs in boundaries: against Sri Lanka in February 2007, he scored 48 with just one four in Rajkot, and followed that with an unbeaten 67 with four fours. Not surprisingly, his five series with the least boundary percentage have all come after 2007.

ODI series with lowest boundary % for Dhoni (at least 100 runs in the series)
Series ODIs Runs Average Strike rate 4s/ 6s % runs in boundaries
Sri Lanka in India, 2006-07 4 115 115.00 80.98 5/ 0 17.39
CB Series 2007-08 6 260 86.67 73.44 10/ 1 17.69
India in Bangladesh 2007 2 127 127.00 79.37 11/ 0 34.65
NatWest Series 2007 7 175 25.00 72.31 15/ 1 37.71
Pakistan in India 2007-08 5 185 46.25 85.64 16/ 3 44.32

His ability to absorb pressure and play according to team needs have made Dhoni one of the best finishers in ODIs today. He is also among the best in ensuring that deliveries aren't wasted: his dot-ball percentage in ODIs is 50.13%, which is next only to Mark Boucher, the South African wicketkeeper, who is the only player in the last four years (among those who've faced at least 2000 balls in ODIs during this period) to have a dot-ball percent of less than 50.

Batsmen with lowest dot-ball % in ODIs since Jan 2004 (at least 2000 balls faced)
Batsman Innings Runs Average Runs per over Dot-ball % 1s, 2s, 3s %
Mark Boucher 82 2140 34.51 5.48 48.78 43.82
Mahendra Singh Dhoni 92 3098 45.55 5.54 50.13 41.93
Michael Hussey 58 1940 55.42 5.32 50.80 41.47
Tillakaratne Dilshan 93 2097 30.37 4.82 51.26 43.30
Andrew Symonds 92 3224 45.42 5.70 51.31 41.14
Michael Clarke 102 3490 44.18 4.87 52.67 41.33
Inzamam-ul-Haq 68 2384 41.80 4.88 53.76 40.16
Mohammad Yousuf 67 3545 43.23 4.56 53.98 41.04
Scott Styris 67 2197 38.54 4.77 54.02 39.99
Kevin Pietersen 64 2515 48.36 5.24 54.12 37.71

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.