January 6, 2017

The captain who raised his batsmanship

Among batsmen who have scored at least 2000 ODI runs both as captain and as player, only AB de Villiers has a higher difference in averages than Dhoni

The added responsibility of captaincy seemed to help Dhoni lift his batting to another level © Getty Images

The strains of captaining an international cricket team, especially one as high-profile as India, can be extremely demanding. For more than one player, it has resulted in a dip in his own performances. MS Dhoni's legend is based on his leading India to victory in many top tournaments - he is the only captain to win all three top ICC events, the World Cup, the World T20 and the Champions Trophy - but equally impressive was the manner in which he ensured his own standards as a batsman stayed high through most of his tenure as captain.

MS Dhoni's ODI career
MS Dhoni ODIs Runs Average SR 100s 50s
 As captain  199  6633  53.92  86.29  6  47
 Not captain  84  2477  44.23  96.26  3  14

Since he took over as captain in 2007, Dhoni led India in 199 ODIs, and over the nine years he captained, his batting average was an incredibly high 53.92. In every calendar year between 2007 and 2015, his ODI average stayed above 40 - the highest was 70.47 in 2009, and the lowest 40.11 in 2007. Apart from 2009, he also averaged more than 60 in 2012 and 2013, and between 50 and 60 in 2008, 2011 and 2014. His consistency between 2007 and 2015 was mind-boggling, but in 2016 his numbers slipped considerably: in ten innings he scored 278 runs and passed 50 just once.

Even so, the difference between Dhoni's ODI average as captain and not captain is 9.70. Among batsmen who have scored at least 2000 ODI runs as captain and as non-captain, only one player has a higher difference: AB de Villiers averaged 65.92 in ODIs when leading the team, and 45.69 otherwise, which is a difference of 20.23.

It could be argued that Dhoni's higher average as captain was largely due to the huge number of not-outs as a result of his batting lower down the order, but even early in his career, his not-out percentage was fairly high: before becoming captain, his not-out percentage was 25 (19 out of 75 innings); after taking over as captain, it increased to 28%. Even in terms of runs per innings (including all not-outs), Dhoni the captain (RPI 38.79) outdoes Dhoni the non-captain (RPI 33.03).

Biggest difference in ODI averages as capt and non-capt (Min 2000 runs in each)
Player Runs - capt Average Runs - not capt Average Difference
  AB de Villiers  4219  65.92  4523  45.69  20.23
  MS Dhoni  6633  53.93  2477  44.23  9.70
  Sanath Jayasuriya  4377  38.73  9053  29.98  8.75
  Inzamam-ul-Haq  2809  43.89  8930  38.33  5.56
  Mohammad Azharuddin  5239  39.39  4139  34.21  5.18
  Allan Border  4439  32.17  2085  27.80  4.37
  Rahul Dravid  2658  42.19  8231  38.28  3.91
  Misbah-ul-Haq  3003  44.82  2119  41.55  3.27
  Steve Waugh  2585  34.93  4984  31.95  2.98
  Ricky Ponting  8497  42.91  5207  40.68  2.23

The difference in averages for batsmen like de Villiers and Dhoni is a far cry from those for some of the other top names in international cricket. Viv Richards, inarguably the greatest ODI batsman of all time, averaged 57.39 when he wasn't captain, but after taking on the leadership role his average dropped to 38.81; he scored more runs in 76 innings when he wasn't captain than he did in 91 innings as captain. Richards' difference is average is the highest among the players who have scored 2000-plus runs as captain and non-captain. The drop was fairly steep for Sachin Tendulkar as well: an average of 37.75 as captain, and 46.16 when he wasn't leading. The numbers are similar for Brian Lara, while Sourav Ganguly was also more prolific when he wasn't leading India.

Biggest negative difference in ODI averages as capt and non-capt (Min 2000 runs in each)
Player Runs - capt Average Runs - not capt Average Difference
  Viv Richards  3105  38.81  3616  57.40  -18.58
  Sachin Tendulkar  2454  37.75  15972  46.16  -8.41
  Brian Lara  3725  35.82  6680  43.66  -7.84
  Richie Richardson  2042  29.17  4206  35.95  -6.78
  Sourav Ganguly  5104  38.67  6259  43.17  -4.50

Dhoni's approach to batting when he was captain was characterised by a measured and level-headed approach, which served India well, especially in run-chases. In successful chases as captain, Dhoni has been unbeaten 26 times in ODIs, which is the highest in ODI history; the next best is 22 by Arjuna Ranatunga, another captain whose calm, unruffled manner in the middle order guided his team to plenty of wins. In fact, the numbers for the two captains are quite similar: they both captained their countries between 190 and 200 times in ODIs, and won about 20 more matches than the next-best captains for their countries. They are Nos. 1 and 2 in terms of most runs scored by captains between positions 5 and 6, and are also among the top four in terms of most Man-of-the-Match awards won by captains - Ranatunga won 19, Dhoni 15.

Dhoni and Ranatunga as captains in ODIs
Player ODIs Won Runs at Nos. 5&6 NO in winning chases MoM awards
 MS Dhoni  199  110  5099  26  15
 Arjuna Ranatunga  193  89  4521  22  19

Only three captains have won more Man-of-the-Match awards in ODIs than MS Dhoni © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

While Dhoni's ODI match-winning abilities come out strongly in numbers, his stats in T20Is aren't quite as impressive. While no captain has scored as many runs as his 1112, Dhoni's strike rate in T20Is is only a middling 122.60. At Nos. 5 and 6, where he has played 42 of his 63 T20I innings, his strike rate is only 115.33, which is 15th among the 19 batsmen who have played 20 or more innings at those positions. That is probably a key reason why he hasn't won a Man-of-the-Match award in his T20I career of 73 matches. Among captains the most such awards have been won by Mohammad Hafeez - five in 29 games as captain - while Chris Gayle, Shahid Afridi and Daniel Vettori have three awards each.

In T20Is, Dhoni clearly wasn't as big a force as a batsman as some of the other big hitters. In ODIs, though, his skills as a lower-middle-order batsman and finisher can't be questioned. Through most of his career, the added responsibility of captaincy only helped improve Dhoni the batsman. The early indications are that Virat Kohli, his successor, is also built in the same mould.

Most MoM awards as captain in T20Is
Player Matches MoM awards
 Mohammad Hafeez  29  5
 Chris Gayle  17  3
 Shahid Afridi  43  3
 Daniel Vettori  28  3

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • muruga4225855 on January 8, 2017, 8:35 GMT

    Dhoni played more matches than abd as a captain....but still his performance better than abd....dhoni plays down the orders to give opportunities to youngsters like raina....

  • john on January 7, 2017, 7:24 GMT

    @MCSDL:"Greatest ODI Captains (Considering achievements, legacy, impact on generations of cricketers and how resources being best utilized) 1. Arjuna Ranatunga 2.MS Dhoni 3.Imran Khan 4.Ricky Ponting 5.Clive Lloyd" Clive Lloyd had the best fast bowlers in 1975 to 1980 with the three fastest bowlers in the World in Andy Roberts, Micheal Holding, Malcolm Marshall so all he had to do was watch his bowlers bloody and frightened the life out of opposition batsmen. That was prior to bouncer bowling limits. MS Dhoni throughout his career as captain has the largest fan base the richest cricket board since 2013 behind him and stupid people talk about lack of resources when he has practically had every resource in the world available, every Australian wants to play IPL because of the money as every other nationality West Indian, South African, and Dhoni still managed 4-0 in 2011 back to back against England and Australia. Ricky Ponting inherited the greatest Aussie side ever in ODI WC 99,03,07.

  • Jayman on January 6, 2017, 10:07 GMT

    All future Indian captains will be measured against the great M.S.Dhoni. He is one of a kind. Others pale in comparison.

  • Daniel on January 6, 2017, 9:53 GMT

    I would be very interested to see how many of those innings as captain were not out; if you compare the 2 he has a far worse conversion as a captain than not. Is this down to not batting as high as he should and ending up with 50+ but not out? Or because he made more consistent runs, but less of them per match?

  • marino on January 6, 2017, 9:36 GMT

    Greatest ODI Captains (Considering achievements, legacy, impact on generations of cricketers and how resources being best utilized) 1. Arjuna Ranatunga 2. MS Dhoni 3. Imran Khan 4. Ricky Ponting 5. Clive Lloyd

  • Pujari on January 6, 2017, 9:23 GMT

    More than anything, from these statistics, AB De Villiers stands out as captain. De Villiers, like Dhoni, is at his best in the ODI format on the international stage. Although ABD is also a legendary test batsman. More than captaincy, I think the numbers show how much ABD matured as a player from the initial days in his career.