Is Dhoni the greatest ODI player?

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When the name MS Dhoni comes up in a conversation, what usually springs to mind? Perhaps a helicopter shot that went for six against a LasithMalinga delivery (he’s done it one more than one occasion), a bad commercial (he has plenty, so it’s quite difficult to choose) or even his butchering of the Pakistani bowling attack on his way to scoring 148 off 123 deliveries, his first ODI century in only his fifth game. But seldom is the word great attached with him. Among Indians it’s always been Tendulkar, Ganguly and even Laxman that have had this much-vaunted word with their names. But it should. He is a great of the ODI game if not the greatest ODI player of the modern generation.

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Tendulkar and Dhoni in the same sentence? Preposterous! But first, what defines greatness?

Well it’s certainly not one thing that can be pinpointed but a mix of things such as consistency, influence, handling of pressure situations, match-winning ability and that certain X factor that cannot quite be explained. Dhoni has all of these qualities and even more. Watching him go about his batting may not be pretty or even orthodox but it sure is entertaining.

But these are all subjective qualities.

That is true but numbers don’t lie. Dhoni has an average of 51.45 and only Hashim Amla (avg: 55.07) and Micheal Bevan (avg: 53.58) have higher averages than Dhoni for batsmen with 3000+ ODI runs. Dhoni’s average however eclipses Amla’s (73.02) and Bevan’s (65.24) at 73.80 in matches won. Add to that he’s scored 4650 of his 7358 runs, over 63%, in winning contributions. Dhoni has captained India on 143 ODI winning 83 of them and here also he boasts the highest average, 73.12, followed by Inzamam-ul-Haq with a distant average of 58.44, for captains that have won 50+ matches.

That’s all fine and dandy but numbers at best tell half the story.

More importantly he is the heart of the Indian team, responsible for many an Indian victory with match-winning knocks and the man you’d want to have at the crease when chasing a stiff total. Just take his 91* in the World Cup final against Sri Lanka or the 45* against the same opposition in the recently concluded Tri Series final at West Indies, the third team. They needed 15 off the last over with just one wicket in hand and Dhoni finished the job with 2 deliveries to spare.

That all very impressive but greats like Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting have also played crucial match-winning knocks. What separates him from the rest of the lot?

It’s simple, just combine all that together, and what you have is Dhoni the batsman, the finishing maestro, the run accumulator and the one India turns to every single time the team seems to be in jeopardy.

Add in his achievements as a captain for the ODI team, which includes first-time bi-lateral ODI series wins in New Zeland and Sri Lanka, the 2011 World Cup, the 2013 Champions trophy and comfortably has the highest win percentage – 63% -of any ODI captain for India who has captained for 50 or more matches and the word great should be automatically associated.

The age old phrase of‘leading from the front’ is whatDhoni’s entire cricketing belief is based on.  Simply see the current young Indian squad talk about Dhoni the captain, and it becomes obvious that he is far more than that guy who sets the field during the match. He is that figure who the young ones look up to and seek advice from, the man they believe with all their heart will guide them in the cool and collected manner that has become so synonymous with him towards glory.

Wow! That does put him in rarefied air. So he is a great, but the greatest? I’m still not convinced.

Imran Khan is still hailed around the world for the sheer respect he commanded from his team, cricket board and his supporters. Dhoni is no different from the great Pakistani captain in this regard. After delivering the World cup after 28 years and following it up by winning the Champions Trophy immediately afterwards, Dhoni at the helm has guided the Indian ODI team to greater heights than it had ever thought possible previously, cementing them as the team to beat for perhaps years to come.

He has done it without compromising his beliefs, his methods and sticking to his own unique style, no matter how much the foreign media constantly scrutinized him and the so-called cricket experts tried to play down his achievements. The fact that Dhoni has been able to lead from the front as a batsman, be the guide and mentor to his junior teammates along with steer the Indian Cricket Team to unprecedented glory so seamlessly must be taken into account by the entire cricketing world.

There is absolutely no justification for it not to be acknowledged. Dhoni the batsman alone, statistically and otherwise is the greatest and most effective batsman of the modern era, but add to that his captaincy, leadership skills and that humble arrogance of achieving all of this without any sacrifices to his uniqueness and style makes this writer strongly claim that MS Dhoni is indeed the greatest ODI player.