As MS Dhoni trudged forlornly off the pitch after so nearly scoring the three runs required to beat Sri Lanka from the final ball of the match, viewers would have been forgiven for thinking his side had suffered a terrible defeat. His slash in to the deep from Malinga’s uncharacteristically wide ball had yielded only two of the three runs required for victory, leaving the game as a tie. Dhoni looked frustrated and downbeat, and the events of just two days earlier seemed to have quickly been forgotten.
It was then that the 30-year-old had arrived at the crease with India needing 92 runs from 95 balls against Australia in Adelaide. Dhoni battled through with icy calmness, but India still required twelve runs from the final over. Suffice to say, he blasted a huge six in to the crowd and India stormed home in style with two balls to spare, as their hero wrote the latest victorious line in the story of a stunning career.
Dhoni is one of the greatest ODI “finishers”, those players who arrive with fifteen or twenty overs left and either shepherd or blast their team to victory with great composure, technique and determination. The finisher is arguably the most difficult role in a One Day team, requiring the ability to hit boundaries, turns singles in to doubles and to manage changeable situations when wickets collapse. Finishers are a varied bunch usually found batting between numbers five and seven, and for every ferocious hitter in the style of Lance Klusener there has been a controlled and intelligent accumulator in the mould of Australia’s Michael Bevan. Bevan is often considered the greatest finisher of all time, but do Dhoni’s achievements match up to those of the Australian maestro?
It is difficult to pinpoint his finest moment in an amazing ODI career, though leading India to victory with a stunning 91 not out from 79 balls in the World Cup Final against Sri Lanka in 2011 surely ranks among his greatest achievements.
To date, Dhoni averages 51 in ODI’s (201 games), with seven centuries and forty-five fifties. His averages in One Day cricket have consistently stayed above 40 each year for seven consecutive years, reaching 70 in his best year (2009) and 41 in his worst (2006). He has most regularly come in at number six (72 times), but has batted in every position between opener and number eight. It is difficult to pinpoint his finest moment in an amazing ODI career, though leading India to victory with a stunning 91 not out from 79 balls in the World Cup Final against Sri Lanka in 2011 surely ranks among his greatest achievements. But there is competition, with his brilliant 183 not out batting at number three in a victory over the same team in 2005 surely one of the best ODI innings ever. His achievements on and off the pitch have made him in to a huge icon in World Cricket. Dhoni won ICC ODI player of the year awards in 2008 and 2009, was named the Forbes top-earning cricketer in 2009 and was listed in Time Magazine’s top 100 most influential people in 2011.
The statistics show there is little to choose between Dhoni and Bevan. In Bevan’s ten-year International career for Australia, he played 232 One Day Internationals, averaging 53 with six centuries and forty-six fifties. He most regularly batted at number six (87 times), but his best average came when batting at number four (59.6 in 53 games). Bevan was renowned as a batsman who played with flair and intelligence and could anchor a team to victory even in the presence of tail-enders. He has been described by former Australia captain Steve Waugh as “a pyjama Picasso, creating masterpiece after masterpiece to the point where his genius became mundane and people were spoiled by his continued brilliance”. Bevan remains the holder of the highest average of any “List A” cricketer with more than 10,000 runs.
Statistically, the area where the two players differ most significantly is in their strike rates; with Dhoni averaging 88 runs per one-hundred balls, and Bevan significantly lower with 74, a testament to their different styles of batting. It is worth remembering however that ODI scores were generally lower during the majority of Bevan’s International career (1994-2004), whilst Dhoni has played in an era where 300 has become the new 250.
Dhoni’s career statistics illustrate him as Bevan’s equal, but there is one particular figure that suggests he may have already surpassed the Australian as the greatest ODI finisher. Dhoni has ended unbeaten in 30 of India's 49 successful chases, averaging a stunning 104 in the process.
Although Bevan holds the world record average in ODI’s for a retired player, Dhoni still has the years on his side to certify himself beyond doubt as the greatest. There are few guarantees in cricket, but if you were allowed to pick two recent batsmen at their peak for your ODI team, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult a decision.
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