Can MS Dhoni Become India’s Number Four?

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Indian cricketer M S Dhoni plays a shot during the 4th One Day International cricket match between Sri Lanka and India at the R Premadasa international cricket stadium at Colombo, Sri Lanka on Thursday 31 August 2017. (Photo by Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

For a long time now, India have tried many options at number four in their batting order in ODIs and T20Is but no one has been able to nail down that spot and make it their own. India now should look at MS Dhoni for that position, for he fits all the requirements India are looking for.

1. MS Dhoni needs time to build his innings

When MS Dhoni made his debut, until the time he was made permanent captain, he was aggressive right  from the first few deliveries he faced. For almost six to seven years now, Dhoni has become a batsman who likes to take up a few deliveries, play an anchor role and take his innings deep before pressing his foot on the accelerator. Dhoni’s current ODI strike rate reads 88.55, which has not gone upwards of 90 since 2009. For eight long years, Dhoni has found a role where he wants to bat deep rather than swing his bat right from the word go. Since the start of 2016, Dhoni has scored 994 runs at a strike rate of 77 which is nowhere near his lofty standards. Dhoni coming down the order and unable to be aggressive right from ball one warrants a case for him to come up the order.

 

2. Dhoni’s game is perfect for the Number Four Role

Positions one to four form the top order of any side and generally the team’s four best batsmen occupy these slots. There is a reason why the majority of the runs are scored by these four batsmen. More deliveries to face, more time to assess the conditions, more time to get set, all these are positives for batting higher up the order. While the former captain is a mastermind in reading conditions, his batting style and demeanour seem perfect for this slot. If the team has lost early wickets, Dhoni is well-versed in scripting a rescue act time and time again and if the team needs a quick boost of runs, Dhoni is pretty good at that too. Dhoni, when allowed the time to settle, is twice as effective as he can cover the early gap between runs scored and balls faced in next to no time.
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3. Dhoni’s Record at Four is Staggering

In 26 innings at number four in his ODI career, Dhoni has scored 1223 runs at a brilliant average of 58.24 and with a strike rate of 94.81. Comparing this with his other batting positions, only at number three (99.70 in 16 innings) and seven (96.06 in 31 innings) does he have a better strike than at four and only at number three (82.75 in 16 innings) does he have a better batting average. While the third spot is firmly cemented by captain Virat Kohli, the fourth spot has been one position where Dhoni has been immensely successful. At six, his usual spot these days, his strike rate reads 83.72 which is simply not high enough for the modern game.

Even in T20I cricket, Dhoni’s strike rate is the highest at four, 147.48 in 10 innings and has scored his only T20I fifty batting at four. These numbers indicate how Dhoni progresses in his innings.

 

4. Others haven’t Cemented This Position

Since the 2015 World Cup, India have used ten players at number four. Excluding MS Dhoni, the records of the others in this period are: Yuvraj Singh (358 runs at 44.75, S/R 97.55), Ajinkya Rahane (271 runs at 67.75, S/R 110.16), Manish Pandey (183 runs at 36.60, S/R 92.89), Hardik Pandya (150 runs at 30, S/R 106.38), Dinesh Karthik (116 runs at 116, S/R 71.17), Kedar Jadhav (18 runs at 9, S/R 50), KL Rahul (17 runs at 17, S/R 70.83), Virat Kohli (23 runs at 11.50, S/R 63.89) and Manoj Tiwary (34 runs at 11.33, S/R 46.58). While Yuvraj Singh has been axed from the ODI setup, Ajinkya Rahane has been currently viewed as a backup opener though his record makes for impressive reading. Dinesh Karthik could continue in that role as he has two consecutive half centuries at four, but others have chalked up half decent numbers with the occasional innings to boast about.
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5. The Need For Dhoni

Over the past few days, the jury has been out on whether MS Dhoni should continue playing T20Is because of his waning powers in the format. The team management needs to be clear on how they view Dhoni as a batsman. The 36-year old is struggling down the order and it is clear why. He needs more time to set himself up in an innings and that is only possible at number four where Dhoni has had success.

In the ODI format, India need a permanent number four as soon as possible before the 2019 World Cup, while they continue to chop and change the players in that position, the time for Dhoni to impress reduces. The need, effectiveness and the vision for MS Dhoni needs to be made clear. He is as fit as he was when he made his debut, the best keeper in the land, how does the Indian think tank view Dhoni?

While India try and experiment with their number four slot, they perhaps are forgetting about one very prominent figure already in their lineup, former captain MS Dhoni. His record at that position is stunning and there have been cries all around the cricketing globe to send Dhoni higher up the order, a position which perhaps Dhoni’s game is best suited for. As the road to the World Cup has well and truly begun, India need to find a solution to this problem of the fourth batsman. Perhaps MS Dhoni is the right man for the job.

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