Travel is supposed to be good for the soul. It expands horizons, forces new experiences reduces differences, and generally makes for a well-rounded human being. Just don’t tell MS Dhoni that.
Over the last three years, Dhoni has travelled to the West Indies England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand (all countries, or groups of countries in the case of the Windies, that most Indians would love to visit) and lost nine times as many Test matches as he has won. India’s overall win-loss record in that span is 1-9-0-3. The kindest thing one can say about such a record is there aren’t many draws, so at least India plays for results in Tests.
India’s dismal record has also coincided with a sharp drop in personal results for Dhoni. His 68 against New Zealand in Wellington is his first half-century away from home for two years. For his career, Dhoni has averaged 33 from 69 innings outside India with one hundred and 14 fifties. Since February 2011, his average has been 25.95 with just five fifties and no hundreds from 26 innings.
Take away New Zealand, where Dhoni has now scored 272 runs at an average of 54.40 from four Tests, and his average drops to 24.09 over the last three years. When put together with his sometimes error-prone keeping, one imagines Dhoni’s place in the team would have been under threat if he were not India’s captain
Dhoni’s problems stem from his technique. He pushes hard at the ball so if a pitch offers bounce, he keeps the slips and wicketkeeper interested. He also has a tendency to try and hit the ball on the move rather than from a stable base, making it harder to make solid contact. Even when Dhoni is patient at the crease, these flaws often cut short his innings.
However, his last two innings in New Zealand have seen him switch to one-day mode. He has been aggressive and attacked the bowling, rather than play traditional cricket. And it is working. His partnership with Ravindra Jadeja in Auckland thrilled and briefly raised hopes of an astounding Indian win. In Wellington, he took the game away from New Zealand when another wicket might have up-ended the Indian innings. He sprinkled 9 fours and a six through out his innings, which came from 86 balls, giving him a strike-rate of 79.06. Together with centurion Ajinkya Rahane, Dhoni added 120 runs from 24.1 overs as India rammed home their advantage.
A quick 30 or 40 in Tests will never have the same impact it does in one-day cricket, but Dhoni’s travelling blues were too severe to ignore. The long-term effectiveness of his attacking play remains to be seen – failures are inevitable with this strategy - but for now India will take runs however Dhoni makes them. That they are also in position to win an away Test after losing nine of their last 10 is no coincidence either.
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