Mental aspect could be the reason for sudden slump in skipper MS Dhoni's strike rate, writes Balvinder Singh Sandhu
Mahendra Singh Dhoni's magic wand that snatched victories from hopeless situations unfortunately has stopped functioning. This resulted in the Twenty20 series defeat to South Africa before India lost the opening one-day international at Kanpur.
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MS Dhoni walks back after being dismissed for five during the second T20 against South Africa in Cuttack last week
Dhoni loved to blast deliveries out of the park, shattering the bowler's confidence in the slog overs, but is now finding it difficult to perform similar acts in the same situation. I wonder why. Fitness can't be the reason. Neither is he carrying an injury or being over-worked. There is no visible change in technique. It could well be the mental aspect that is causing the sudden slump in his strike rate.
Players play strokes fearlessly when their place in the team is secured or when they have nothing to lose, but doubts in the mind creep in due to insecurity. When that happens, batsmen start playing tentatively to deliveries that were earlier dispatched quickly to the boundary and Dhoni did that quite regularly.
Sport at the top is more mental and this to me seems the logical reason for his below par performance in the recent T20 and ODI series against South Africa. With Dhoni retiring from Test cricket, opting to play only shorter version of the game, the selectors rightly showed faith in him to be at the helm and guide India's young brigade before the baton could be handed over to the next generation.
He played fearless cricket while leading the team in all formats. The reins of Indian cricket were firmly in his hand. He was in a secured space and that reflected in his captaincy and batting. Challenging, tight situations was his comfort zone. He would quickly assess situations, find a process, get into 'mental zone' where the sub-conscious mind takes over the process of performing. All that resulted in amazing, inspiring strokeplay.
Not getting enough opportunities to play international bowling regularly, some former cricketers and media raising questions over his future, a change in the corridors of BCCI power… I reckon all this is adding to mental insecurity and with it, comes uncertainty.
This uncertainty seems to be creeping into Dhoni's mind and his style of play. Unusually, he is taking more time to get his eye in, eats up too many deliveries and is unable to finish the game as in the past. This change in him is hurting India and they are not able to get into the steering seat in the series against South Africa.
The chairman of national selection committee Sandeep Patil with Team Director Ravi Shastri need to assure Dhoni of their support and keep the faith in him. In fact, the selectors should take a bold, proactive step in appointing Dhoni captain for the World T20 right now. This will go a long way to get rid of the demons in Dhoni's mind which are coming in the way of performing and leading from the front.
MS Dhoni, you are one of my favourite cricketers. I enjoy watching you mentally disintegrate the bowlers, destroying their confidence. Go out and bat as if there is no tomorrow. Be fearless. You have nothing to lose and let the future take its course.
MS Dhoni's strike rate in last five ODIs. His overall strike rate is 89.00