Mahendra Singh Dhoni has served Indian cricket well in all three formats as a batsman, wicket-keeper and Captain, in his long and illustrious career. He is undoubtedly the best wicket-keeper batsman that India has ever had in the limited overs format, and even arguably so in the test format as well.
As a captain, even though his records in test matches is quite decent, especially in home matches, his outstanding record as India’s captain in both the limited overs format makes him possibly the best ever Indian captain for India in ODIs and T20Is. But now that his T20 career is quite probably over and the ODI career is at its last stage, and he is no longer the Indian captain in any format, it’s an ideal time to have a look at his illustrious career and see in which format has he been the most impactful.
To begin with, let’s state the obvious. One obvious marker of judging a captain is to see his record in the important global tournaments, especially the biggest global event, i.e. the World Cup. Dhoni is the only Indian captain to win India the world cup in both ODIs and T20Is.
Under his captaincy, India won the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007. Then in 2011, he led India to its second ODI World Cup victory when India won the ICC ODI World Cup as the host nation. He has also won India the Champions Trophy in 2013, often referred to as the mini World Cup in ODI cricket.
Statistically, his records as captain in both ODIs and T20Is are quite similar. He has led India in 200 ODI matches and India has won 110 of those matches, the win percentage being 59.5, whereas in T20Is, he has led India in 72 matches, winning 41 of them at a 57% of win percentage.
So, the win-loss ratios in both the formats are quite similar for Dhoni, the captain. One could argue that as a captain, he has won India two global tournaments in ODIs whereas India won only one global tournament in T20Is. So, maybe his impact as a captain has been more in ODIs than in T20Is.
But statistics are not always the best way to judge a captain’s impact. For that, we have to see how his captaincy changed the public perception of the game, and impacted the game in more ways than one.
Though India’s 2011 World Cup victory and the subsequent Champions trophy victory in 2013 under Dhoni’s captaincy were momentous, legendary occasions, and made a billion people happy, it did not alter the game’s status much in Indian public’s perception.
ODI format had been very popular in India since the 1980’s. It’s not Captain Dhoni, but captain Kapil Dev who had helped immensely in popularizing ODI cricket in India by leading India to the unexpected world cup victory against the mighty West Indies in 1983.
But before Dhoni led India to victory in the first-ever ICC T20 world cup in 2007, the T20 game was seen largely as an experiment, which was taking its tentative baby steps. The superstars of Indian cricket of the time such as Sachin, Sourav and Dravid had decided to skip it. By leading a young Indian team to world cup glory in the shortest version of the game, Dhoni made sure that the T20 version became the most popular form in India in no time.
The fact that he achieved this by defeating arch-rival Pakistan in a nail-biting final only added to the importance of such a victory. The impact of Misbah’s scooped ball landing in a gleeful Sreesanth’s lap in that match is no less than that of the ball coming off Miandad’s bat and landing in the stands in Sharjah.
The former assuaged the agony of the latter for an Indian fan, and Indian cricket has gotten stronger after that, as can be seen from a confident India’s records in all forms of the game since that epic victory, and especially so in the limited overs format.
One could safely argue that if Dhoni had not led India to that unexpected T20 World Cup title in 2007, there would have been no IPL or other premier leagues across the globe. The fact that T20 format, which was seen as an experiment till then, suddenly got the legitimacy of a proper cricketing format, has a lot to do with its acceptance and popularity in the subcontinent, thanks to the tremendous buzz that India’s T20 world cup victory under Dhoni’s captaincy generated.
It would be fair to say that despite his remarkable success as the Captain of the Indian cricket team in all three formats, it’s MS Dhoni, the Captain of the Indian T20 cricket team whose impact on world cricket, especially on Indian cricket, has been the greatest.