How much time does MS Dhoni have left?
As the World Cup nears, so too might the end of one of Indian cricket's greatest career's. At 37 years of age he is clearly significantly closer to the finish line than he is the beginning, but the reality of his impending retirement has taken hold in recent days with the realisation that he is likely set to play his final international match in his home town of Ranchi this Friday.
Ranchi, a town renowned moreso for its hockey and minerals than cricket, is near Kolkatta, and is the home of JSCA Stadium – the site of the third ODI between Australia and India in a five game series. India currently leads the series 2-0, meaning a victory here would sew up the series.
That will, of course, be the main focus of the Indian team, but all eyes in the crowd will be squarely on the man who put Ranchi on the cricketing map.
MS Dhoni's stats are impressive enough on their own, but they don't do justice to the impact he had on Indian cricket. Captain of the limited overs team for over a decade – as well as the Test team up until his retirement from five day cricket in 2014 – he led the team through a period of excellence, culminating with the teams second World Cup victory in 2015, their first since 1983.
Another reason his stats alone are not sufficient to capture the player he has been throughout his career is his ability to score runs when his team needed them the most, deservedly earning a reputation as one of the best limited overs finishers in the history of the game. Coming in further down the order as a wicketkeeper-batsman, he has always had an incredible knack of bringing his team back from the brink of defeat. He boasts an incredible understanding of the nuances of a run chase, of what is required and when, something which is matched by his ability to execute it.
And then, of course, there is his glovework. With some of the quickest hands ever seen, he regularly procured wickets where, for most keepers, there wasn't one to take.
And yet, despite all this adulation and commentary about how he is more than just his stats alone, the stats are pretty damn impressive. In Test cricket – from which, as mentioned, he retired five years ago – his 90 matches produced 4,876 runs at 38.09 and six centuries, an excellent return for a wicketkeeper-batsman, as well as 256 catches and 38 stumpings.
However, it's the shorter forms of the game where his numbers really pop off the page. In the fifty over format he has played 288 innings, producing 10,474 runs at the incredible average of 50.84, and scored those runs at a strike rate of 87.64. He has managed ten centuries and 71 half-centuries, but perhaps the stat which most aptly sums up his play is his 82 undefeated – close to 30% of his total innings. It is in that number that his ability to finish an innings is truly obvious – without crunching the numbers, it's difficult to manage many other batsmen boasting a not out percentage close to that. And those not out's were rarely the token kind, the kind where a batsman comes in late or is able to cruise to an easy victory after the top order does the hard work. Plenty of them were the product of amazing run chases, of bringing India back to life after they found themselves on the brink of defeat. It's also worth noting that in these matches, he has also contributed 314 catches and 120 stumpings.
T20I cricket only became a major part of the cricketing calendar after MS Dhoni was already an established player, but nonetheless he has made a name for himself as one of its best exponents. In 98 matches and 85 innings he averages 37.8, a sizeable number in that form of the game, at a more than acceptable strike rate of 126.13. Add to this 57 catches and 34 stumpings and you have some gaudy numbers to say the least.
Of course, all this discussion is not to say his career is over – in fact, far from it. The idea that he will retire after the World Cup has not been confirmed, and is at this point just that – an idea. And even if that does end up being the case, he still has a vital role to play in the most important cricketing calendar. He might not be captain anymore, but his experience and ability in the middle-lower order will nonetheless be imperative, and there could yet be another important chapter to come in his illustrious career as he attempts to help his side win a third World Cup. As the second-ranked side in ODI cricket – and essentially in a tie for first with England, with whom they currently share the rating of 123 (significantly higher than New Zealand in third with 112) – they head into the tournament as one of the favourites, and Dhoni, despite his recent struggles relative to the rest of his career, may just be their second most important player (it's hard to go past current captain and a man fast establishing himself as one of the best to ever play the game in all formats in Virat Kohli as the most important).
In recent times, Mahendra Singh's performance began to wane a little, his age beginning to show itself. Between December of 2017 and January of 2019 he failed to pass 50 once in 14 ODI innings, and many questioned if he still deserved his place in the side. The mark of a true champion is their ability to bounce back, though, and he has done just that over the past few months. In India's three-match ODI series in Australia he scored 51, 55* and 87*. He then put together an unbeaten 48 off just 33 balls against New Zealand (and a 1, but we'll forgive him for that), and then a 59* in the first ODI of the current series against Australia (and then a duck, but we'll forgive him for that too.
He is beginning to show signs of the old MS Dhoni, the one who was seemingly impossible to get out, having been unbeaten in four of his last seven innings and scoring 250 runs at an average of 83.33 in that time. And his timing couldn't be better – as he heads into what is likely his final game at his home ground and a final World Cup thereafter, MS Dhoni is showing that he still has what it takes to go out on a high.