Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a national treasure in India. Almost no other cricketer, present-day or otherwise, would have invited as much debate despite not having played international cricket for almost a year.
Even though this year’s Indian Premier League season has been suspended indefinitely, we now know that Dhoni is the best finisher, the best captain, the best team-mate and his enthusiasm for the game even at 38 had convinced many that he was truly going to make this IPL his own. Strange as it may seem, Dhoni’s legend has only grown stronger in the lockdown.
Of course, one might argue that Dhoni’s legend isn’t exactly reliant on anyone talking about it. Over a long career, his exploits as a wicketkeeper-batsman have arguably changed the game in some formats. The way he plans his innings has influenced so many cricketers around the world and all of it boiled down to his icy cool temperament. He never seemed ruffled or uncomfortable. Or even if he did, he did a great job hiding it.
While it doesn’t take a genius to know that he tops the charts for India in all three formats of the game, the question we are looking to answer here is whether he would make the World XI in any format.
Dhoni vs other India ‘keepers
Just to establish that he was indeed better than every other India wicketkeeper, we compare him to the best ‘keepers the country has ever produced.
In Test cricket, the gap isn’t as pronounced. Dhoni has done the job longer than any other India ‘keeper (only Syed Kirmani with 88 Tests comes close to Dhoni’s 90) and he has a higher batting average than any other ‘keeper too.
While many argue that Dhoni didn’t quite do justice to his talent in the Test format, he has scored the most runs, has the highest average and effected the most dismissals (caught/stumped). Someone like Rishabh Pant could change this in the future but for now, there is a huge question mark about the youngster’s ‘keeping. Many will also say that Kirmani, Kiran More, Nayan Mongia and Wriddhiman Saha were better pure ‘keepers but the fact is that no one quite brought the full package the way Dhoni did.
Top wicketkeepers for India in Tests
But that was Test cricket. When one moves into the ODI arena, no one comes close to Dhoni. He tops every category by a wide margin and his cool finishes made him a legend. The only two players that offer him some competition are the so-called makeshift wicketkeeper-batsmen – Rahul Dravid and KL Rahul.
Dravid’s numbers as a ‘keeper in ODIs are quite splendid – batting average of 44.23 (when he played purely as a batsman he averaged 38.00), a respectable strike-rate of 72.60.
Rahul is still in his early days but if the Indian team does decide to persist with him – maybe ‘keeping could do for him what it did for Dravid. On many occasions, Dravid has spoken about how ‘keeping helped him become a better cricketer.
But no one comes close to Dhoni’s impact in this format. Remember he was also the captain in 200 of these matches. He simply soaked up the pressure and made India a better team... made India world champions.
Top Indian keepers -- ODIs
Now, Dhoni would walk into most IPL dream XIs. But while he did stack up some good numbers in the T20 league, he never was quite as successful at the international level. He always did know how to apply the finishing touches and was not out 42 times but his strike-rate of 126.13 shows that it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
No one else has played enough T20Is for India to really stake a claim ahead of Dhoni. Maybe, this is an argument to be revisited in a few years.
Top wicketkeepers for India in T20Is
The best of the best
While it was hard to find competition for Dhoni in India, the world has plenty of options in Test cricket. AB de Villiers, Adam Gilchrist, Andy Flower were all brilliant, match-winning options with the bat, something that Dhoni never quite managed with consistency.
Dhoni’s numbers with the bat are good but players like Flower and Gilchrist were in a different class in the longest format. De Villiers and Kumara Sangakkara didn’t do the job long enough though and their sides probably attached more importance to their pure batting talent.
So, would Dhoni make a Test World XI? The answer is no.
Test cricket – most runs as 'keeper
|de Villiers, A B||24||39||2067||169||7||7||57.42||94|
|Gilchrist, A C||96||137||5570||204*||17||26||47.61||416|
|Ames, L E G||44||67||2387||149||8||7||43.40||95|
|de Kock, Q*||45||76||2884||129*||5||21||40.62||202|
|Watling, B J*||62||94||3266||205||7||17||40.32||239|
|Prior, M J||79||123||4099||131*||7||28||40.19||256|
|Sangakkara, K C||47||79||2966||230||6||11||39.55||144|
|Dhoni, M S||90||144||4876||224||6||33||38.09||294|
|Bairstow, J M*||48||85||3028||167*||5||15||37.85||181|
In ODI cricket, it is hard to ignore Dhoni. His cricketing smarts made him an important piece of the puzzle and then, there was his finishing ability. But then, you have someone like AB de Villiers, who averages 69.00 as a ‘keeper.
But honestly, if one truly had to pick, ABD would probably make the side as a pure batsman too and that is when Dhoni would walk into the XI. Gilchrist could play the match-winning innings but Dhoni’s sheer consistency would give him the edge here.
So, would Dhoni make the ODI World XI? Yes.
ODI cricket – most runs as 'keeper
|de Villiers, A B||58||2829||9||17||69.00||97|
|Hope, S D*||77||3283||9||17||52.11||93|
|Dhoni, M S*||350||10773||10||73||50.58||444|
|de Kock, Q*||120||5132||15||25||45.02||173|
|Sangakkara, K C||360||13341||23||91||43.74||482|
|Buttler, J C*||141||3843||9||20||41.32||202|
|Taylor, B R M*||100||3510||5||22||39.00||124|
|Gilchrist, A C||282||9410||16||53||35.64||472|
This is perhaps the hardest format to pick. Too many variables to choose from but the fight for the spot essentially comes down to two players – Dhoni and Brendon McCullum. If one really wanted to consider a third option, Jos Buttler comes in for the rate he scores his runs at.
This is a hard pick also because Dhoni never quite distinguished himself in this format as he did in ODIs. There is virtually nothing to pick between McCullum and Dhoni from a batting perspective and Buttler’s strike-rate would give him an edge.
But it is perhaps Dhoni’s full package that will give him the edge here – a very smart keeper, a great finisher and an ice-cool captain. No one else manages all of this. As an added bonus, due to his unflappable attitude, he will be captain of the World XI too.
So, would Dhoni make the T20I World XI? Yes.
T20I cricket – most runs as 'keeper
|Dhoni, M S*||98||1617||56||0||2||37.60||91|
|McCullum, B B||42||1352||123||1||9||37.56||32|
|de Kock, Q*||43||1213||79*||0||6||31.92||50|
|Sangakkara, K C||55||1371||78||0||8||31.88||45|
|Buttler, J C*||53||1226||73*||0||8||29.19||28|