Opinion, Politics, Sports

Is it time to bid adieu to Mahi and Yuvi?

TH21DHONI
Dhoni & Yuvraj (Picture courtesy: The Hindu)

Is it time to bid adieu to Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni two legends of Indian cricket? These two are without doubt cricketing icons of India, Dhoni more so than Yuvraj who is in my opinion the most popular, scrutinized, and written-about Indian cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar. This question assumes importance particularly after the ICC Champions trophy where the performance of these two and specifically the slots they occupied – 4 and 5 were the subject of much discussion. It was also clearly obvious that India were playing an extra batsman to cover for the inconsistency in the performance of numbers 4 and 5, the slots occupied by Yuvraj and Dhoni respectively.

It’s true that these two cricketers have been great champions and servants of Indian cricket but as in every sportsperson’s life there comes a time when the mind is strong but the body is not, the will exists but the skill resists and the strokes are there but the bowlers have sorted you out and the writing on the wall starts to become clearer – many great sportsmen and women have reached this stage, when the writing is on the wall and the time to take a call on their careers stares them in the face – it is not an easy decision particularly when one has got accustomed to the rigor and discipline, the camaraderie, and the adulation of fans, colleagues and peers.

We have before us examples of Indian cricketers who took the call at the right time – when fans ask “why now?” rather than “When?” Sunil Gavaskar showed he was a master of timing not just at the crease but also when it came to taking a call on his cricketing career when he quit after playing what is considered one of the greatest innings of all time – against Pakistan at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru on a minefield of a pitch with Pakistani spinners Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim spinning the ball like a top.(1)

We have also on the other hand had the experience of another legend Kapil Dev huffing and puffing his way to the then world record tally of 432 test wickets hanging on in hope and desperation even though he was well past his prime.(2) The great G.R. Viswanath is another example of someone who did not get his timing right when it came to taking a call on their careers.

Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble left when they knew that their time was up and when they realized that MS Dhoni was building “his” own team that had no place for them . Saurav Ganguly and VVS Laxman had to be nudged gently but they took the call when they still had something left in the tank. (3, 4)

Now, the clock has come full-circle and it is time to take a call on the careers of MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh.

Dhoni is just a few days shy of 36 years of age now and will be almost 38 by the time of the 2019 World Cup to be played in England and Wales (30 May 2019 – 15 Jul 2019). Yuvraj is just a few months younger to Dhoni and will be almost the same age come the next world cup – Questions must and should be asked about whether their they would be automatic choices for slots 4 and 5. In posing this question an assessment of the following should be made:

  1. Current form, fitness, and consistency
  2. Ability to perform consistently and deliver results on the international stage – now and two years from now
  3. Do we have replacements in India now who can fit into these roles and should we be making the necessary investments and providing them the opportunities so that they are ready for the World Cup?
  4. Are we playing an extra sixth batsman at slot 7 just to cover for the inconsistency in the performances of those occupying slots 4 and 5
  5. Given their current performance will they be automatic choices for slots two years from now or would be facing a situation where we would be scrambling for replacements with very little time left and no preparation whatsoever
  6. Can they deliver on all their skills? – Yuvraj should ideally be able to bat, bowl, and field and Dhoni should be able to bat and keep wickets

While arguments on the basis of class, seniority, and past performances can be made, what should matter is performance and results on the field of play and for this a look at the cold facts – numbers and statistics comparing past performances against recent record should be a good indicator.

MS Dhoni’s statistics:

Table 1 (5,6) below provides a snapshot of MS Dhoni’s career. Row-1 of the table provides overall career statistics starting with his debut in 2004 through to the present (2017). Row-2 covers the last two years and Row-3 summarizes information from 2004 through 2014 (in order to compare the past performance versus the performance in the last two years to see if there is any decline in key deliverables).

As is evident from the table, there has been a significant drop in Dhoni’s batting average from 52.85 (2004-2014) to 39.90 (2015-2017) a difference of (-12.95) which indicates a steep decline in run-scoring ability and consistency.

Interestingly his Strike Rate has only dropped marginally. During the period 2004 through 2014, Dhoni scored a fifty every 4.5 matches, that has halved now to a fifty every 8.3 matches (2015-2017). Clearly when it comes to batting performance there has been a significant and steep drop in delivery.

Table 1: MS Dhoni Career Stats

Player Period Match Runs HS Avg SR 100s 50s Ct St
MS Dhoni 2004-2017 291 9342 183* 50.77 89.04 10 62 273 94
2015-2017 41 1150 134 39.90 87.38 1 6 46 9
2004-2014 250 8192 183* 52.85 89.28 9 56 227 85

What about the other parameters listed above? How does Dhoni fare? As regards fitness Dhoni is right up there with the fittest in the world and his glove-work behind the stumps continues to be exemplary. The question however is whether he will be able to retain this level of fitness when he is 38 years old by the time of the next world cup in 2019. Then again one must remember that the next World cup is going to be played in England and Wales and Dhoni’s record in that part of the World has not been something to write home about. See Table-2 (7) (MS Dhoni’s career stats in England)

Table 2 – MS Dhoni Performance in England (as a venue & against all opposition)

Player Period Match Runs HS Avg SR 100s 50s Ct St
MS Dhoni 2004-2017 26 586 78* 36.62 86.94 0 6 11 8

In the 26 matches he has played in England he averages 36.62, well below his career average and even lower than his overall average of 39.90 in the last two years. His strike rate is marginally lower, with a highest score of 78. The question of whether he would be able to deliver in England, 2019 is definitely valid and the selectors should be indeed concerned and discussing these aspects.

Besides the quantitative drop in Dhoni’s abilities with the bat, what is also clearly evident in the recent past and particularly in the last year is that two of Dhoni’s strengths – the acceleration at the death while batting and the ability to clear the boundary at will have both gone missing. Bowlers are also finding it easier to cramp Dhoni by bowling slightly short and into his body. The famous helicopter and ramp shots that deposited yorkers into the crowd have also disappeared. Therefore the sad truth is that Dhoni’s abilities with the bat are declining both quantitatively and qualitatively.

One can only conclude that Dhoni may still be fit and perhaps the best wicketkeeper in India but in an era where wicketkeepers in most teams are expected to perform a crucial role with the bat, Dhoni’s waning skills with the bat are clearly affecting Team India’s chances. Rishab Pant has had a wonderful year in both domestic and IPL cricket this year. His performances in International U-19 tournaments have also been noteworthy and now may well be the right time to blood him and groom him for the World Cup in England and Wales.

Yuvraj Singh’s statistics:

Yuvraj Singh has always been an “impact” player – that has always been his USP – his ability to turn a match on its head – a blinder with the bat, a spectacular catch, a stunning runout, or an important breakthrough with the ball – these define his value to the team. This is reflected in his stats (8,9) as well (see Table-3 below). Not a great average but there is evidence to show that every time he has scored a century or made a quick-fire fifty, or pulled off a magical catch, or broken through a troublesome batting partnership with his innocuous but effective bowling he has been instrumental in taking India to a win or putting them in a strong position.

Table 3 – Yuvraj Singh overall career stats

Player Period Match Runs HS Avg SR 100s 50s Wkt Ct
Yuvraj Singh 2000-2017 301 8644 150 36.78 87.76 14 52 111 94
2015-2017 8 315 150 52.50 104.30 1 1 0 0
2000-2014 293 8329 139 36.37 89.28 13 51 111 93

There is no doubt that he can still bat, still play that majestic innings that demoralizes the opposition. In fact his batting average and strike rate since his comeback are significantly higher than his overall average and strike rate but his fielding has deteriorated alarmingly and the captain needs to hide him in the field. Since his comeback he has not turned his arm over and doesn’t look like he wants to or would be able to bowl. Clearly, Yuvraj can’t deliver on two of his three skills and that is a huge drawback for Team India. His fielding and fitness are surely going to deteriorate further in the two years leading up to the World Cup in England-2019.

In the case of Yuvraj more than in the case of MS Dhoni India has several players who can more than fill the gap. Once can’t fathom how a player of the caliber of Suresh Raina who is a great one-day batsman, a superb fielder, and someone who can bowl competently is being kept out in order to accommodate Yuvraj. There are several other younger, fitter cricketers, who can make the cut – Manish Pandey, Sanju Samson, and Krunal Pandya to name just a few.

Finally, Yuvraj’s performance while playing in England is nothing to write home about (10) (See Table-4). His average is lower than his overall career average and strike rate is marginally lower than his overall strike rate. If he can’t deliver on his other two skills namely bowling and fielding then there really is no point in sticking with Yuvraj till the world cup.

Table 4 – Yuvraj Singh Performance in England (as a venue & against all opposition)

Player Period Match Runs HS Avg SR 100s 50s Wkt Ct
Yuvraj Singh 2000-2017 24 688 72 34.40 87.30 0 5 8

Rahul Dravid in his inimitable style minced no words when he urged the selectors to take a decisive call on both players and decide on the future roadmap of Indian Cricket. The ball as they say is in the selectors’ court and they would do well to think wisely and decide on the basis of what is in the long-term interest of Indian cricket.

Perhaps a quiet word with the two cricketers should move things alone in the right direction and without ruffling too many feathers. After all, this has been the preferred method followed by the Indian cricket establishment for a long time now.


References:

  1. Available at: (http://www.cricketcountry.com/articles/sunil-gavaskars-epic-last-test-innings-exactly-25-years-ago-12451). Last accessed: July 21, 2017.
  2. Available at: http://www.cricketcountry.com/articles/kapil-dev-conquers-final-frontier-to-get-past-richard-hadlees-world-record-for-test-wickets-22864. Last accessed: July 21, 2017.
  3. Available at: http://www.firstpost.com/sports/ask-laxman-why-he-retired-dhoni-426488.html. Last accessed: July 21, 2017.
  4. Available at: http://www.espncricinfo.com/india-v-new-zealand-2012/content/story/578096.html. Last accessed: July 21, 2017.
  5. Available at: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/zones/insights?insights=player&player_id=7593. Last accessed: July 21, 2017
  6. Available at: http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/player/28081.html?class=2;home_or_away=1;home_or_away=2;home_or_away=3;spanmax2=31+dec+2014;spanmin2=01+jan+2004;spanval2=span;template=results;type=allround. Last accessed: July 22, 2017.
  7. Available at: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/zones/insights?insights=player&player_id=7593. Last accessed: July 21, 2017
  8. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/zones/insights?insights=player&player_id=7716
  9. http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/player/36084.html?class=2;spanmax1=31+dec+2014;spanval1=span;template=results;type=allround

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/zones/insights?insights=player&player_id=7716

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