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It is just as true though that at 190-5 in a Test match he doesn’t quite give you the feeling that all is well. His batting numbers in Tests 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 (avg 38), Dhoni the one-day cricketer is a giant. You would worry, for example, if India had to bat him at number 6 in a test match, you wouldn’t at all if he were a permanent number 5 in the one-day game. Indeed, that is where I am convinced he should bat because it provides the right balance between playing as many balls as possible and ensuring he is in when the last few overs are being bowled.
Having said that, at 6, he evokes feelings similar to those Australian supporters would 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 @ 53.58, Dhoni 7215 from 216 @ 52.28. It could be argued that they are beneficiaries of many not outs that invariably come about at number 6 though batsmen would be just as entitled to argue that they are not guaranteed as many deliveries as a number 3 for example. But if you did take away the not outs and do a straight runs/innings ratio 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 such an Australian cricketer who thought players like Bevan liked the not out rather too much and that therefore they were more valuable second innings players than in the first where the desire to stay unbeaten could result in fewer runs for the team. And 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, onto number six itself where Dhoni at 43.47 might seem to lag 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 12 innings) countered by the Dhoni camp (Bevan in Sri Lanka: 27 from 20 innings). (In fact Dhoni’s numbers in South Africa are part of a larger trend that shows all Indian batsmen take substantial dips in their batting average in that country).
Interestingly, Bevan never became a force in Tests even though he scored Sheffield Shield runs by the bagful. There was talk that he didn’t like the short pitched ball though he would have been dished that out substantially 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 a similar attitude allows him to enjoy the one-day game more than a Test match, or indeed more than a t20 match. 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 he can get by some days with a weak bowling side, something 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. 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 while he goes through a cycle of bad and good times it will be counter-productive to make him captain. 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 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 he can do. As some of us had suggested (and earned approval from Rahul Dravid) giving up the T20 captaincy might be an option; not just for India, those are too few matches to count, but for Chennai Super Kings as well. That will give him two months of cricket to enjoy, allow him to look at the game from a different light and give Suresh Raina the responsibility that I think he will grow into very well. It might be good for franchise and country.