On Thursday, in the fourth match of the five-match series against Sri Lanka, Mahendra Singh Dhoni will become only the 20th player to play 300 or more One Day Internationals (ODIs). Four players have played more than 400 matches (Sachin Tendulkar, Mahela Jayawardene, Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumara Sangakkara), while Shahid Afridi, with 398 games, just missed the mark.
“It is never easy to survive for so many matches in international cricket. It speaks about Dhoni’s longevity in the game. He is a terrific all-rounder," says former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Harris, who played 250 matches in the 1990s.
“Like Tendulkar, Dhoni is one of the least criticized players in India and that speaks volumes about his contribution," says former Indian wicketkeeper Kiran More, who was the chief selector in 2004, when Dhoni was selected.
Dhoni’s career graph has been so unreal that even without a biopic, his story will look filmi. It is not surprising that his best moments have come in ODIs. A career average of nearly 52 and a strike rate of around 89 is a rare achievement.
Dhoni will be only the second wicketkeeper after Sangakkara to play 300 games. The former Sri Lankan captain represented his country in 360 matches as a wicketkeeper-batsman. South Africa’s Mark Boucher played 295 matches, while Adam Gilchrist managed 287 games.
“I will put him alongside Gilchrist as an all-time best wicketkeeper-batsman in ODIs. Some of the decisions he has taken as captain are incredible and probably defined him as a player and gave an aura to his personality," adds Harris.
The former India captain debuted four years after Yuvraj Singh, who spoke recently about the importance of this landmark in England. “To play for India is one thing but to sustain a long international career is tough. One needs to believe that one can do what one has done before and achieve the same things again," Singh said on 15 June during the Champions Trophy.
What separates Dhoni from any other India player is that he has never been dropped from a game or even “rested" (an oft-used euphemism).
“I have been amazed by his awareness and understanding of the modern game," says Rudra Pratap Singh, a former India player. “He was blessed with a naturally athletic body but after playing 200 ODIs, he started putting a lot of effort into improving his fitness. He realized that with so much workload, only being supremely fit can take him to the 2019 World Cup," says Rudra Pratap, who has played 58 matches with Dhoni.
Dhoni may not be able to go past Sangakkara’s run tally of 14,234 (the most runs after Tendulkar) but as a wicketkeeper he has better numbers. During the second ODI of the current series on 24 August, Dhoni equalled Sangakkara’s record of most stumpings (99) in ODIs.
But Dhoni took 106 fewer matches to do so.
No one has remained unbeaten while batting more than Dhoni—40 of those occasions came in ODIs that India won. Already in this series, he has unbeaten scores of 45 and 67 in the two matches in which he batted.
So the statistic that Dhoni has the highest average (99.16, Kohli has 97.68 and Michael Bevan, 86.25) during successful run-chases in ODIs (minimum 1,000 runs), doesn’t come as a surprise.
“Never try to judge him on his numbers alone. The way he bats with the middle-order and lower-order batsmen is exemplary and should be part of coaching manuals by now," says Rudra Pratap.
Among the current set of players, only Suresh Raina, with 223 matches so far, appears close to Dhoni. But the Uttar Pradesh player last represented India in 2015 and it’s doubtful whether he will get into the team again.
Sri Lanka’s Upul Tharanga (209) and Lasith Malinga (202) look unlikely to go past 300 if age, form and fitness are taken into consideration. Kohli, with 191 matches currently, looks like the only one with a realistic chance.
The reason why 300 may be a distant dream is also because ODIs have started losing their charm, to the extent that their future is being debated. The proliferation of Twenty20 leagues across the world has contributed to this. So has the number of ODI matches and bilateral series without any context, especially in the subcontinent. Harris, for instance, says, “It will not be easier for future generations as most of cricket is moving towards the shortest (T20) format."
More, however, differs, “It may not be easy to play 300 matches in the future but I don’t think this format is going to die."
Dhoni has another statistic to aim for. Other than two Australians (Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting), from this list of 300 plus ODIs, no player has won the world cup twice. That is something Dhoni will hope to aim for in 2019.
Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide. He tweets @vimalwa.