Is MSD the batsman still the best finisher in the IPL?

Let the data speak

Firstly, let’s compare Dhoni of 2008-19 with the Dhoni of 2020-21 till date after 14th over of the innings

KPIsIPL 2008-19IPL 2020-19
Strike Rate161.8129.2
Runs per innings2212.4
Balls per innings13.69.6

Although the time frame considered in the two phases is considerably different, he is facing 4 balls per innings lesser on an average compared to what he did till 2019. At the same time, he is scoring almost 10 runs lesser per innings with a strike rate that has simultaneously gone down by more than 30 runs. Hence, it is not that he is facing fewer balls to be more attacking.

The knock from IPL 2020 where we saw MSD literally exhausted for the first time in IPL history

Now let’s have a look at his performance compared to his peers in the two phases.

Here we have plotted Strike rates of players against their Runs per innings who arrive at the crease mostly at no. 5, 6 or 7 & sparingly and no.4. In the first phase(of 11 seasons) we have considered the list of players who have faced at least 500 balls in the period, while in the second phase(1 and half seasons) the players who have faced 100 or more balls are considered. During this period some of the finest T20 players like Yuvraj Singh, JP Duminy & Yusuf Pathan have retired from the highest level & many new brilliant T20 finishers have come in and continued playing in the IPL.

As is evident from the above, the plot has been divided into 4 quadrants. Players scoring at least 16 runs per innings in that last 6 over period at a rate of more than 160 strike rate comprise of the best performers in the group, i.e. the top-right corner. Players belonging to the opposite corner are considered as the lesser performers compared to the players in the other 3 quadrants.

From the first scatter plot it is evident that Andre Russell whom we fondly call Dre Russ is the most destructive of the lot with a strike rate touching 200 at an RPI of 23. However, from a longevity and consistency perspective, we can positively say that MS Dhoni was the best during that period (with an SR of 161.8 at 22 RPI) considering he played all the 11 IPLs during that period playing way more matches than Dre Russ. Cut to the phase post his retirement, he seems to be the worst of the finishers to date. The sharpest decline possible. This may be attributed to Dhoni not playing any Cricket other than IPL post-2019 ODI World Cup. The clear lack of game time can make a huge impact on a big hitter’s form and confidence. Especially in a format where players batting in the middle to lower-middle order are expected to score at an extremely brisk rate with hardly any time to get accustomed to the playing conditions. With this comparison, the reader may once again reiterate the phrase – Practice makes a man perfect.

Looking at the positives from the two graphs for Indian cricket, the 3 other Indian players who are still playing and form the intersection from the two phases have switched places with Captain Cool. Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik and the man who is now the best option for CSK to carry the baton from Dhoni to play the finishers’ role, Ravindra Jadeja now belong to the top quadrant.

As a left-field thought, the CSK management may consider pushing Dhoni up the order to number 3 where he made his first major impression in the international circuit. The logic behind such a move is that he takes more time to settle in these days and with the ball coming on to the bat comparatively faster may force him to be more proactive. Led by Jadeja, the management must already be planning the future of the CSK middle order. However, considering the phrase Class is permanent, all is not lost for the Dhoni fans who still expect wonders from him come the second half of the IPL 2021 from September 19th. More so for the CSK fans, as they have already made a great start to this year in the first 7 matches in the India leg. People may be apprehensive of the fact that the team had their worst season last year at a place where the upcoming matches are going to be played.

All said and done, we the Cricket fanatics will not be able to switch our TV channels when CSK play and Dhoni decides to prove all the above statistics wrong.

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