Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Dhoni and the Batting Order Conundrum

Over some time now, the Indian team has been experimenting with their batting order a fair amount. Different batsmen have been tried at different positions, while the team is looking not only for the ideal batting combination in case some of the first choice batsmen are injured (as has been happening far too often recently), but also to build flexibility in the batting order, so that if the situation requires, any man can be comfortable in any role.
In this, the captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, has also played a part, sometimes promoting himself up the order, sometimes coming lower down the order.

Dhoni's normal batting position is at Number 5, but the skipper has often promoted himself to No.3 or No.4 in a few matches. More often than not, the change has worked, and Dhoni has a good record while batting up the order. In fact, his highest ODI score - a brutal 183 not out against Sri Lanka - has come when he has batted up the order.

Here is a table of Dhoni's batting performance at various slots:

PositionMatchesInnsNot OutsRunsHighestAvgStr. Rate100s50s
2nd 220989649.0086.7201
3rd16164993183* 82.7599.6926
4th13134734109* 81.55108.918
6th474711139588* 38.7581.1909
7th24249589139* 39.2695.6114

However, it is instructive to probe further into just when Dhoni has come up the order and when he hasn't. Of the 160 ODIs that Dhoni has played so far, he has captained India in 76. Thus in those 76 games, he has had a direct influence on deciding the batting order. As captain, Dhoni's performance at various positions has been:

PositionMatchesInnsNot OutsRunsHighestAvgStr. Rate100s50s
4th662365109* 91.25101.3814
6th2424572188* 37.9475.2605

We can probe further into Dhoni's batting order decisions as captain. In particular, it is interesting to note when he has come in to bat higher up the order, and when he hasn't. The way to measure this would be to see the average score of Team India (in matches that Dhoni has captained) at the fall of the first and second wickets, and compare those figures with what the average score has been when Dhoni has chosen to come up the order.

The figures are:

India's top order batting
Fall of Wicket1st2nd
Run Rate5.855.62

Thus on an average, India has been 40/1 after 6.5 overs and 73/2 after 13 overs (figures rounded to nearest integer) during the matches that Dhoni has captained.
What of the matches when Dhoni has promoted himself? What has India's average score for the same parameters been then? Here are the figures:

India's top order batting
Fall of Wicket1st2nd
Run Rate6.736.09

Thus Dhoni has clearly come in to bat when India's score and run-rate have been significantly higher than average, and the number of overs elapsed has also consequently been significantly higher than average. In numbers:

India's top order batting
Difference in Score107.50%79.45%
Fall of Wicket1st2nd
Difference in Balls bowled87.69%63.85%
Difference in Run Rate14.97%8.51%

Dhoni has come in to bat in 5 matches at Number 3 as captain, and in 6 matches at Number 4 (including the first ODI against South Africa at Jaipur in the current series).

What possible reasons could be there for this discrepancy?

One would be tempted to argue that Dhoni does not like facing a new, hard ball, but likes the freedom he gets higher up the order, and thus ensures that he comes in only when the ball has been tonked around for a while and lost its shine.

However, that would be too simplistic. At various times in his career, Dhoni has exhibited admirable fighting qualities and shown the will to stick it out during tough periods, even though his technique is unorthodox and the easier option would have been to go for the guts or glory approach, throw his bat at everything, and succeed spectacularly or fail quickly. However, he has not done that. And he has played these innings in the cauldron of Test cricket, not in the more comfortable arena of ODI or Twenty20 cricket.

Thus the Dhoni-is-selfish argument lacks merit. But the fact remains that Dhoni has indeed chosen to come higher up the order when a very nice platform has already been laid. The reason he has done so is possibly because Dhoni understands his game very well. He knows that he has the power to hit big shots like few other players in international cricket. However, he also knows that if he gives himself time to settle in, he will be that much more capable of playing the big shots later on. He also has the responsibilities of captaincy, and of ensuring that his team doesn't suffer due to any personal bias on his part.

Thus by coming in early with a set platform, he has ensured that he has not only contributed, but contributed handsomely to the team and taken them from an already good position to an extremely strong one.

When early wickets have been lost at the start, the situation calls for a more orthodox approach - one that someone like Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli or Suresh Raina will bring. Hence, Dhoni has sent them in ahead of himself.

All in all, though the numbers paint a slightly biased picture of Dhoni, the logic behind the numbers seems to suggest that Dhoni's promotions in the batting order have more often than not, furthered the team's cause. In a more telling statistic than any of the above, India has won each of the eleven matches when Dhoni has batted at Numbers 3 and 4 as captain.
Photos courtesy Cricbuzz


Ravindar Kumar said...

Beautiful article. Your article helped bring 4 avid cricket fans to come to a conclusion on the same debate.

Ravindar Kumar said...

I must add the debate was happening at 2AM in the night :)

Saurabh Somani said...

@Ravindra Kumar: 2 am is when the most lively cricket debates happen mate :)
glad you liked the article.

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The Pakistani Spectator

Rohit Sharma said...

One question still remains unanswered though. Why Does MSD tend to shuffle himself more than others. Does it imply that he considers himself as the most important member of the team or is he just being selfish. His alterations with batting order have done India good more often than not. But maybe if he does the same with Suresh Raina or someone else, it may result in greater success. Is he concentrating more on himself than his team as captain.

Saurabh Somani said...

@rohit sharma: i think he shuffles himself because he can adapt to different situations - i.e. explode if need be, or graft.
raina has batted at various positions in the middle order as has kohli and rohit sharma, so can't really say he doesnt shuffle others.