Why Dhoni’s 300 is a rare feat

Mint ST - - BUSINESS OF LIFE - BY VIMAL KU­MAR

To­day, in the fourth match of the five-match se­ries against Sri Lanka, Ma­hen­dra Singh Dhoni will be­come only the 20th player to play 300 or more One Day In­ter­na­tion­als (ODIS). Four play­ers have played more than 400 matches (Sachin Ten­dulkar, Ma­hela Jayawar­dene, Sanath Jaya­suriya and Ku­mara San­gakkara), while Shahid Afridi, with 398 games, just missed the mark.

“It is never easy to sur­vive for so many matches in in­ter­na­tional cricket. It speaks about Dhoni’s longevity in the game. He is a ter­rific all-rounder,” says for­mer New Zealand all-rounder Chris Har­ris, who played 250 matches in the 1990s.

“Like Ten­dulkar, Dhoni is one of the least crit­i­cized play­ers in In­dia and that speaks vol­umes about his con­tri­bu­tion,” says for­mer In­dian wick­et­keeper Ki­ran More, who was the chief se­lec­tor in 2004, when Dhoni was se­lected.

Dhoni’s ca­reer graph has been so un­real that even with­out a biopic, his story will look filmi. It is not sur­pris­ing that his best mo­ments have come in ODIS. A ca­reer av­er­age of nearly 52 and a strike rate of around 89 is a rare achieve­ment.

Dhoni will be only the sec­ond wick­et­keeper after San­gakkara to play 300 games. The for­mer Sri Lankan cap­tain rep­re­sented his coun­try in 360 matches as a wick­et­keeper-bats­man. South Africa’s Mark Boucher played 295 matches, while Adam Gilchrist man­aged 287 games.

“I will put him along­side Gilchrist as an all-time best wick­et­keeper-bats­man in ODIS. Some of the de­ci­sions he has taken as cap­tain are in­cred­i­ble and prob­a­bly de­fined him as a player and gave an aura to his per­son­al­ity,” adds Har­ris.

The for­mer In­dia cap­tain de­buted four years after Yu­vraj Singh, who spoke re­cently about the im­por­tance of this land­mark in Eng­land. “To play for In­dia is one thing but to sus­tain a long in­ter­na­tional ca­reer is tough. One needs to be­lieve that one can do what one has done be­fore and achieve the same things again,” Singh said on 15 June dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy.

What sep­a­rates Dhoni from any other In­dia player is that he has never been dropped from a game or even “rested” (an of­tused eu­phemism).

“I have been amazed by his aware­ness and un­der­stand­ing of the mod­ern game,” says Ru­dra Pratap Singh, a for­mer In­dia player. “He was blessed with a nat­u­rally ath­letic body but after play­ing 200 ODIS, he started putting a lot of ef­fort into im­prov­ing his fit­ness. He re­al­ized that with so much work­load, only be­ing supremely fit can take him to the 2019 World Cup,” says Ru­dra Pratap, who has played 58 matches with Dhoni.

Dhoni may not be able to go past San­gakkara’s run tally of 14,234 (the most runs after Ten­dulkar) but as a wick­et­keeper he has bet­ter num­bers. Dur­ing the sec­ond ODI of the cur­rent se­ries on 24 Au­gust, Dhoni equalled San­gakkara’s record of most stump­ings (99) in ODIS.

But Dhoni took 106 fewer matches to do so.

No one has re­mained un­beaten while bat­ting more than Dhoni—40 of those oc­ca­sions came in ODIS that In­dia won. Al­ready in this se­ries, he has un­beaten scores of 45 and 67 in the two matches in which he bat­ted.

So the statis­tic that Dhoni has the high­est av­er­age (99.16, Kohli has 97.68 and Michael Be­van, 86.25) dur­ing suc­cess­ful run­chases in ODIS (min­i­mum 1,000 runs), doesn’t come as a sur­prise.

“Never try to judge him on his num­bers alone. The way he bats with the mid­dle-or­der and lower-or­der bats­men is ex­em­plary and should be part of coach­ing man­u­als by now,” says Ru­dra Pratap.

Among the cur­rent set of play­ers, only Suresh Raina, with 223 matches so far, ap­pears close to Dhoni. But the Ut­tar Pradesh player last rep­re­sented In­dia in 2015 and it’s doubt­ful whether he will get into the team again.

Sri Lanka’s Upul Tha­ranga (209) and La­sith Malinga (202) look un­likely to go past 300 if age, form and fit­ness are taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. Kohli, with 191 matches cur­rently, looks like the only one with a re­al­is­tic chance.

The rea­son why 300 may be a dis­tant dream is also be­cause ODIS have started los­ing their charm, to the ex­tent that their fu­ture is be­ing de­bated. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of Twenty20 leagues across the world has con­trib­uted to this. So has the num­ber of ODI matches and bi­lat­eral se­ries with­out any con­text, es­pe­cially in the sub­con­ti­nent. Har­ris, for in­stance, says, “It will not be eas­ier for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions as most of cricket is mov­ing to­wards the short­est (T20) for­mat.”

More, how­ever, dif­fers, “It may not be easy to play 300 matches in the fu­ture but I don’t think this for­mat is go­ing to die.”

Dhoni has another statis­tic to aim for. Other than two Aus­tralians (Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting), from this list of 300 plus ODIS, no player has won the world cup twice. That is some­thing Dhoni will hope to aim for in 2019.

Vimal Ku­mar is the au­thor of Sachin: Crick­eter Of The Cen­tury and The Cricket Fa­natic’s Es­sen­tial Guide. He tweets @vi­malwa.

Write to us at busi­nes­soflife@livemint.com

PTI

M.S. Dhoni is 392 short of scor­ing 10,000 runs in ODIS.

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