January 18, 2013

Dhoni: made for ODIs

It is as a one-day batsman and captain that he finds his best expression

It was 119 for 4 when Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked out to bat in Kochi. Ordinarily, Indian supporters might have been tense, given the scoreline; the fingernails might have been chewed, and India's recent one-day record might have been in danger of being pummelled further. But the man on his way out seemed to bring a sense of calm with him. He was in good form, of course - possibly the only one in the side in any form at all - but there was an inevitability about his performance. Dhoni calms nerves in one-day cricket, and there is little doubt that in the era after Ganguly, Dravid and Tendulkar, he is India's best limited-overs batsman.

It is just as true, though, that at 190 for 5 in a Test match he doesn't quite give you the feeling that all is well. His batting numbers in Test cricket are not bad - in the pre-Gilchrist era they would have been considered excellent - but he doesn't seem to control the game in quite the same way. And while Dhoni the Test player is good (average 38), Dhoni the one-day cricketer is a giant. You would worry, for example, if India had to bat him at No. 6 in a Test match; you wouldn't at all if he were a permanent No. 5 in the one-day game. Indeed, that is where I am convinced he should bat, because it provides the right balance between him playing as many balls as possible and ensuring he is in when the last few overs are being bowled.

Having said that, at six he evokes feelings similar to those Australian supporters will have had with Michael Bevan, and it is an interesting exercise to compare numbers and, indeed, to realise how similar they are. Bevan has 6912 runs from 232 games at 53.58, Dhoni 7215 from 216 at 52.28. It could be argued that they are beneficiaries of the many not-outs that invariably come when you bat No. 6, though batsmen who play in that position would be just as entitled to argue that they are not guaranteed as many deliveries as a No. 3, for example. But if you take away the not-outs and do a straight runs-by-innings calculation, Bevan gets 35.26 to Dhoni's 37.38.

As an aside, that demand to take away the effect of not-outs comes largely from top- order players, and I have heard it stridently argued by one such Australian cricketer, who thought players like Bevan liked the not-out rather too much and that therefore players like him were more valuable in the second innings than in the first, where the desire to stay unbeaten could result in fewer runs for the team. (When you have been around for a while you realise that the genesis of most points of view lies in where a particular player's numbers are strongest!)

So then, on to No. 6 itself, where Dhoni at 43.47 might seem to lag behind Bevan at 56.71 - until you look at those innings where batsmen have been out (which, I must admit, is not a clinching argument). Here he does 26.17 to Bevan's 27.94. The Bevan camp might say Dhoni didn't enjoy batting in South Africa (21.70 from ten innings), and that would be countered by the Dhoni camp (Bevan in Sri Lanka: 27.28 from 20 innings). (In fact, Dhoni's numbers in South Africa are part of a larger trend that shows the batting averages of all Indian batsmen take substantial dips in that country).

I believe Dhoni has something of an attitude that allows him to enjoy the one-day game more than a Test match, or indeed more than a T20. Witness how he sneaks overs in from part-timers, lets a bowler go all ten at a time, lets his instincts run

Interestingly Bevan never became a force in Test cricket, though he scored Sheffield Shield runs by the bagful. There was talk that he didn't like the short-pitched ball, though he must have got plenty of them in first class cricket in Australia. I rather think he was more suited to the one-day game, where his hit-the-gap-and-run-hard style was so effective. Dhoni too, till he unfurls shots later in the innings, is a jabber, a streetsmart batsman who gives you the impression he is in a boxing ring sometimes: jab, punch, defend, defend, jab...

I also believe it is something of that attitude that allows him to enjoy the one-day game more than a Test match, or indeed more than a T20. Witness how he sneaks overs in from part-timers, lets a bowler go all ten at a time, lets his instincts run. He makes no secret of the fact that he enjoys the one-day game. And in it he can get by some days with a weak bowling side, which he can't do in Test matches, where he can often spend an hour searching for a bowler. Don't forget that he never had access to the giant-hearted Anil Kumble, and that Harbhajan Singh seemed to be past his best most times when he bowled for Dhoni. You can see it is a combination that allows Test matches to drift at times.

So can we look elsewhere for a Test captain? Virat Kohli has only played 15 Tests, and it would be counter-productive to make him captain while he goes through a cycle of bad and good times. I fear there is a question mark over Virender Sehwag's long-term future, and while I hope that is dispelled quickly, it doesn't make giving him the leadership a sound long-term decision. And I think Gautam Gambhir needs to focus just now on being the batsman he can be without worrying about being the leader that he might be. So, you see, we've come to the end!

But there is one thing Dhoni can do. As some of us suggested (Rahul Dravid among them), giving up the T20 captaincy might be an option - not just the India job, those are too few matches to count, but the Chennai Super Kings one as well. That will give him two months of cricket to enjoy, allow him to look at the game in a different light, and give Suresh Raina a responsibility that I think he will grow into very well. It might be good for franchise and country.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on January 21, 2013, 22:35 GMT

    Harmony111: I comment in these columns for the love of Cricket that I once use to play. I support Pujara because in my opinion, he is the best batsman in India today. He is disciplined & refuses to give his wkt. away. If India selects 5 best batsmen, Pujara who bats @#3, should get his position automatically. You are asking my opinion -who to drop from the present side. I can give various permutations but I am not prepared to take any more of your Questions- OK? 1. Drop Ishant & make (Raina + Yuvi) the 5th bowler 2. Replace Gambhir or Rahane with alternate openers - Pujara or Kohli can easily be one- since Kohli batted almost as an opener in last ODI. 3. If Raina is NOT playing as an "All Rounder", replace him with Pujara - More reliable batsman. If I were the Captain, I would go with Item 1, above (since England is weak against spin). This gives me 2 seamers + 4 spinners. Ishant is in XI in case one of the seamers is off colour- but he is guy who is off colour as is Dinda!.

  • Sarav on January 21, 2013, 21:52 GMT

    I would say that One Should be Poker. Right, im talking about Gambir can be given some time to forget his new Poking technique to throw his wicket, thanks to his laziness .. Bloody he's not looking like a guy who batted for hours in Napier-NZ, Rather looking to score from sheepish technique .. If anyone's way down in technic only him especially for that attitude 'why to hit when I can score with my Poke' eventually gets out. And this has been happening months now inspite of questions raised by Gavaskar, Ganguly etc.

  • Harmon on January 21, 2013, 21:18 GMT

    @ Sir.Ivor: Of course I've not seen any of these players bat ever. All I've seen is a few matches of T20 esp IPL where power hitters beat the leather off the ball. Moreover, I've never held a bat in my hand and don't know if a cricket ball is bigger or a hockey ball.

    And I admit that it is a fact that Pujara made the most no of runs anyone has ever made in a 4 test series and an avg of 87 there is ample proof of his class and that he just needs to walk in to the ODI team and will score 50s and 100s by the dozen smashing (or rather timing) the ball to the boundary.

    Nampally: Now it was YOU who did not ack my answer. And the question persists still. Pujara in the place of whom? If it was that easy then you would've known the answer but face it, you too have no idea about it.

    Ok, let me re-word it. Suppose you are the captain of Indian ODI team and face this dilemma. Which player will you drop? Let's hear your reasons and over all thinking. #1 to #7, right? Ok, go on ... I am waiting.

  • Subramani on January 21, 2013, 14:40 GMT

    Harmony 111, I read your well expressed fears.I would firstly like to mention that batting in cricket is all about timing.I am not sure if you have seen Asif Iqbal,Tiger Pataudi David Gower Zaheer Abbas, Vishwananth or Azharuddin play. They were not like what one sees in the WWF.They were slightly built but played shots which took one's breath awayThere seemed to be no sound but the ball would speed away as if propelled by some strange force.Pujara looks slight of build but has a good sense of timing and placement.Above all he has the kind of footwork which even someone like Boycott found fluid which reminded him of Barry Richards. Ted Dexter said much the same about him. Englishmen are reserved in their praise and not given to the kind of eloquence one sees in the media. If balls do not travel to the boundary as fast as you would like them to, it may be because of the outfield or because the timing was not as it should be for a particular bounce in the ball and such things.

  • Ashok on January 21, 2013, 14:30 GMT

    @Sir.Ivor:Thanks for your concurrence on Pujara's talent & technique. If you look closely at all the Indian batsmen, incl. Rahane & Kohli, their bat does not always come straight down the line with no gap between bat & ball with correct footwork. Rahane was bowled by Finn twice in last 2 ODI's bat pad gap. Pujara has bat Pad together along with great foot work & had coped with Panesar & Swann in Mumbai Test with the best defence reminicent of Gavaskar. I do not see any Indian batsman has his technique. As for the hook shot it is also a function of timing + correctly judging pace of the pitch. If the bounce is misjudged it does not always keep the ball down.Pujara has shown his hunger for runs & discioline not to throw away his wkt. Besides his recent 2 Triple centuries in Ranji @ a S/R of 94 showed he is no slouch with S/R either.In the present Indian batting where top 5 bats. slumped to 29 for 5 due to lack of batting technique, it is futile to ask: who will he replace?Any of Top 5!

  • seek on January 21, 2013, 14:03 GMT

    How about Tendulkar for TEST Captaincy? Since he has retired from ODIs, he would be ideal person to lead Team India in TESTs till selectors find a successor for him in test team.

  • Harmon on January 21, 2013, 8:59 GMT


    In a comment that went unpublished on Sharda Ugra's article, I too had noticed that Pujara did not look too ok in playing the horizontal shots. And imo he is uneasy in playing these shots cos he has weak shoulders. He is/was unable to lift and release his arms to get the desired power in his pulls shots, cut shots are more about timing but on wickets with extra bounce he will need to have quicker arms to deal with the bounce. Some batsmen have a problem with the short ball due to their stance or shuffle or due to their style. Pujara doesn't have that problem but he lacks the strength, this is why perhaps his shots don't travel far. With this weakness, how will he fare in ODIs where he won't be able to let balls go?

    Alright, I may be making too much of a slight issue cos so many ppl play ODIs after all, Raina for eg.

    CP's commitment or talent is not in doubt, but the root question is: Who will you drop to play CP? GG? Is CP an opener?

  • Subramani on January 21, 2013, 7:48 GMT

    This is to queer the pitch in the on going discussion between Nampalli and Harmony 111. I too am a follower of the fortunes of Pujara.That is because I have a habit of following cricketers all over the world from the U 19 level.In the batch of Pujara he looked exceptional even at that stage,with his superb technique as also his commitment and dedication to improving his game, not rest on his laurels as sung by the media and getting arrogant.Add to that the fact that he has been scoring the kind of runs that was commonplace for batsmen of the famed Nawanagar stable, now called Saurashtra.When he played that match-winning innings against Australia in a tricky chase he attacked. His temperament came to notice.But he hooked many balls which went in the air but near any fielder.He was not rolling his wrists.He went back and practised for hours.Now he does.That tells me that he is an earnest learner.He is a humble man to boot. I would replace him for Gambhir because he has the technique.

  • Harmon on January 21, 2013, 4:45 GMT


    ....." if you eliminate Gambhir, Sehwag, Dhoni & Yuvraj from this discussion, the next 2 senior batsmen are Kohli (15 Tests) & Pujara (9Tests).".....

    Well in terms of pure logic nothing is wrong with this statement of yours but it is a very funny statement in my eyes. I hope you too can notice the fun part.

    Ofc benching is not a good thing. But what to do? Only 11 can play the game. Had Pujara been a fast bowler or a spinner then he would have walked in with ease. But he is a batsman, that too a middle order batsman - and I don't see a slot in the middle order for him unless someone gets injured (god forbid) or someone loses his form completely.

  • Harmon on January 21, 2013, 3:54 GMT

    @Nampally: I did not ack YOUR answer cos firstly that forum is closed for comments and secondly YOUR answer never really arrived. I asked you who Pujara will replace in the team and you said anybody in the team from 1-7. That's like Who will be Ind's next PM? - Anybody amongst the Indians.

    Look, it's not that I dislike Pujara or don't want him in the team. But the fundamental question is, whom to drop? VK/YS/SR/MS can't be dropped. RJ is now performing and is an AR. Pujara can't bowl so RA/IS/BK/SA too can't be dropped. This leaves us with GG & AR. But AR himself is new & GG is at least getting some runs now. Besides Pujara is not an opener. Asking him to open as a newbie might harm him a lot.

    I wouldn't even dare to call anyone to be in the class of SRT or SMG just yet. Such comparisons put immense pressure on the player and don't turn out well usually.

    Just cos someone is talented you can't take him in by dropping an exp and proven performer.

    In my opinion, Pujara has to wait.