MS Dhoni has a lot of cricket left in him: Michael Clarke
It's more than one year now that India have won an One Day International (ODI) series under Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Since October 2014, when India won the ODI series against West Indies (who decided to boycott the fifth ODI) at home, India have registered series wins against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, but it was under Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, respectively.
Dhoni is an absolute superstar in ODI cricket. 275 games. 8918 runs. 50+ average. And his captaincy and finishing capacity has taken him to a level that may take some reaching.
Since the last 12 months, however, Dhoni has struggled to emphasise why he is as great a player as it is said to be. His finishing powers certainly seem diminished, and his big-hitting ability seems to have deserted him. He has averaged less than 20 for the first time in a series since Jan 2011 (minimum three innings). All this has encouraged rumours that the fifth ODI against Australia in Sydney might have been be the Indian captain's final ODI appearance. So much so that the first few questions in the press conference after hovered around whether the rumours were true, after all.
Former Australia captain, Michael Clarke sprung to MS Dhoni's defence saying the 34-year-old still has a lot of cricket left in him. "I think MS Dhoni has done a wonderful job for India in all formats of the game," says Clarke in an interview after his lap of honour at the Sydney Cricket Ground. "I still think he has a lot to offer to the Indian team.
"I think his captaincy has been very good throughout his career and I think he's played a big part in helping India having sustained success over a long period. Any time the team doesn't win, the captain is always accountable, so I'm sure he feels disappointed about not being able to win this series. I still think MS Dhoni has a lot to offer as a captain and also as a player."
Michael Clarke has played and seen enough cricket to speak about the game, being one of its finest, and certainly most entertaining players. He certainly has enough in common, too, with the Indian captain. Both the Australian and Dhoni were born in 1981 - less than four months apart. They made their international debut less than two years apart. Both are World Cup winning captains, to boot.
"I think Dhoni has a lot of cricket left in him..." says Clarke with a quick smile, when asked if captains have a shelf life. "... if that's what you're suggesting. He can continue to captain India if he wants to because he's earned that right. And I think you know when the right time is to go."
Clarke also adds that Dhoni has been hurt by the injury to his key bowler, Mohammad Shami. "I think you've missed Shami for sure in this series. He'd have bowled really well. But the wickets have been so flat. So I don't think we can be too hard on the bowlers. India has made 300 every time they've batted against Australian bowlers as well. I just think Australia has probably scored that 20 or 30 runs extra every time.
"99% of the time, MS Dhoni walks out to bat with five overs or 10 overs, he's unbelievable. You look at his record and somebody in the Indian team hasn't been able to do that this series. I certainly don't think we can be too hard on MS Dhoni and the Indian team," Clarke adds.
The flat wickets have been a recurring theme anybody you speak to in Australia. 3000+ runs scored, 11 centuries scored and only 61 wickets taken in 10 innings overall. Clarke feels that the high scores have been a combination of flat pitches and the world-class batsmen in both sides. "I think we've seen flat wickets and both top orders have played really well. Both batting groups deserve a lot of credit. It's been tough work for the bowlers.
"India have probably missed someone in that middle order to be able to go in the last five or 10 overs to strike it at a strike rate of 150 - M.S. Dhoni has done that for so long. It's been high-scoring from both teams which certainly has entertainment value, but I'd have liked to see a little bit more spin, because I'd like to see Ashwin play. Him and Jadeja are a very good combination, I think," he said.
Michael Hussey, who signed off as a Big Bash League Champion on Sunday, also sprang to Dhoni's defence. The pair, of course, have worked closely in Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League and Hussey said Dhoni has the ability to take the pressure and attention off all the other players and let them play to potential.
"I think we try and look too much into it," said Hussey about the Dhoni retirement claims. He's a very relaxed character. He goes with his gut feeling a lot, which I think is very important as a captain. He doesn't panic under pressure; he keeps his cool. He takes his time.
"You put so much pressure on yourself. The fans and the media put so much pressure on the players. He's got this wonderful ability just to get the players to relax, try and take that pressure off them. Just go out there and play and enjoy playing the game of cricket: that's what he impresses on the players all the time and I think that's one of his greatest strengths, particularly in a place like India, where there is so much tension, stress, pressure, so much attention on all the players," Hussey said.
Despite the ODI series loss, it's still an exciting time for cricket in India. India play a host of T20Is ahead of the World T20 at home, and a win in the multi-starrer will put a hush on all rumours about the Indian captain and his retirement. Clarke said he felt the Indians are the favourites for the World T20.
"You've got natural instincts that you've got to back, which is sometimes easier said than done. It's a little bit of trial and error. You work out, 'I probably made the wrong decision there,' or 'I probably should have bowled someone else,' or 'I probably should have sent him up the order a little bit earlier.'
"That's why I say, the best teams in the world have a mixture of youth and experience. So the youth learns from the experience and the senior players get off from the adrenaline and excitement in the younger players. That's what drives them at training to try and become better. India has that; obviously there are a few injuries but in my opinion they're the team to beat at the T20 World Cup. They're the favourites," he summed up.