Plenty has gone wrong for MS Dhoni in the last 20 months: India have been thumped in overseas Tests, and then lost some more at home too; his captaincy moves have been questioned; and his batting form in Tests has been pretty ordinary - 958 runs in 33 innings at 33.03 - and those stats were propped up by home runs against New Zealand and West Indies. There's one aspect of his game, though, that has remained untouched by all these recent debacles - his ODI batting has been quite spectacular recently, even if all his runs haven't led to victories.
Since the end of the 2011 World Cup, Dhoni has played 27 ODI innings, scored 1166 runs, and averaged 83.28 at a strike rate of 92.39. The average has been helped along by 13 not-outs, but even allowing for that, these are amazing numbers: in these 27 innings he has gone past 50 on 11 occasions, and scored a century when coming in to bat at 29 for 5 in seaming conditions against a potent Pakistan attack. He has guided the team when wickets have fallen around him, consolidated during the middle stages of the innings, and been there during the slog overs, performing each role to perfection.
There has been criticism about him batting too far down the order at Nos. 6 or 7 - he has batted higher only three times during this period - but it can also be argued that he has given the specialist batsmen in the team the best opportunity to build their innings. That he has been left with so much to do is a damning indictment of the lack of form of the top-order batsmen. In these 30 matches that Dhoni has played, he has scored 16.38% of bat runs scored by all Indian batsmen, a pretty high percentage for someone who bats outside the top five in the 50-over format.
Dhoni is one of 11 batsmen to score more than 1000 ODI runs during this period, and while his average is easily the highest, only Suresh Raina has a higher strike rate among these 11.
Batsmen who have scored 1000+ ODI runs since May 2011
The table below demonstrates how cleverly Dhoni paces his innings in an ODI. He has often spoken about the importance of not going for big shots too early in the innings, and of holding back the charge till as late as possible; the numbers below show he practises what he preaches. In the 419 balls he has played during the first 30 overs of an innings, Dhoni has scored only 245, a run rate of 3.50 per overs. He has played out 250 dot balls during this period (60% of the total deliveries he faced), but has been dismissed only three times. Most of his runs in this time have come in singles. The break-up reads thus: 130 ones, 23 twos, and a three, with only 66 runs coming in fours or sixes.
Between overs 30 and 40, his run rate goes up, but not by all that much, to 4.05 per over. Out of 367 deliveries, he has played out 210 dots (57%), and has still scored mostly in singles and twos (119 and 14), with only 88 runs coming in fours or sixes. Between the 41st and 45th overs, the dot-ball percentage drops to 42 (97 out of 229), while the scoring rate also goes up to very nearly a run a ball. However, even during this period he has generally resisted the temptation to cut loose.
It's only in the last five overs that he has completely broken the shackles, striking the ball to all parts and scoring at nearly 11 runs per over. In this phase of innings, 60% of his runs have come in fours or sixes, and his dot-ball percentage drops to 22. It can be argued that he sometimes leaves the onslaught for too late, but Dhoni has the numbers to back his method.
Dhoni and the art of pacing an ODI innings (since May 2011)
Dhoni's scoring methods also indicate he has worked out his percentages well. Of the 1166 runs he has scored since the last World Cup, 810 have come in front of the wicket (nearly 70%), while 334 have been scored in the V between mid-off and mid-on. On the other hand, he has scored only 86 in the V behind the wicket - between third man and fine leg - which shows his preference for playing with the full face of the bat, rather than attempting cute angles. He has also struck more than 50% of his sixes (16 out of 30) in the V between long-on and long-off, with 12 more coming in the midwicket region. (See wagon-wheel graphic.)
His scoring patterns against different types of bowlers also shows his inclination to play the percentages. Against right-arm spin, Dhoni has scored at only 3.88 runs per over, but he hasn't been dismissed even once. He has played some high-quality offspinners during this period - Saeed Ajmal (36 runs off 77 balls), Mohammad Hafeez (48 off 72) and Graeme Swann (77 off 99) being the main ones - and Dhoni has been sensible enough to respect their skills, preserving his wicket so that he is around to take advantage of other, weaker bowlers. (It's an approach that a batsman like Virender Sehwag would do well to adopt.)
Against left-arm spin, too, Dhoni has been pretty circumspect, scoring 40 from 70 balls off Xavier Doherty - who is also the only spinner to dismiss him in ODIs during this period - and 13 from 27 off Rangana Herath. Against Samit Patel, whose skills as a left-arm spinner aren't in the top league, Dhoni has scored more freely, taking 59 off 58. His overall scoring rate against spin is also relatively low because spinners bowl primarily in the middle overs, when Dhoni's main focus is usually on preserving his wicket.
The quicker bowlers have gone for more runs, though right-arm seamers have also dismissed him 13 times. Tim Bresnan has dismissed Dhoni three times - the only bowler to do so - but has also gone for 99 runs in 79 balls (7.51 runs per over). Jade Dernbach has conceded 95 off 100, but has dismissed Dhoni twice, while Lasith Malinga's two wickets have cost him 68 off just 53 balls. The bowler who has struggled the most against Dhoni is Steven Finn, going for 85 from 59 balls, without ever dismissing him.
Most fast bowlers will fancy their chances against Dhoni in Tests, especially overseas, but in ODIs Dhoni has tackled them pretty effectively. Batting outside Asia remains a tricky issue for Dhoni - he averages only 33.13 in chases outside Asia, compared to 63.89 in Asia - but given his current form, he is India's best batting bet in ODIs regardless of the conditions.
Dhoni against each type of bowler in ODIs since May 2011