ODI cricket in the 21st century has seen a gradual progression in various aspects. From scores to rules to many other facets, the 50-over version has evolved significantly.
With such advancing changes, the roles played by an ODI cricketer has also changed considerably and one of them that has come under the scanner often is that of the finisher.
The 1990s had one fine player, who played that role the best in Javed Miandad
The 2000s had two: Michael Bevan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni and it would be interesting to see who really was better in the role
The first thing is to look at their career from up-top, just via stats.
In 232 ODIs, between April 1994 and February 2004, Bevan made 6912 runs at an astounding average of 53.58 with 67 not out scores.
Dhoni, between December 2004 and July 2019 (who knows when he’ll play again), has made 10773 runs in 350 ODIs at 50.57 with 84 not out scores.
It is clear, just from these numbers, having played a lot more matches and got a few more not outs under his belt, Dhoni has an edge over Bevan in this regard.
Result: Bevan 0, Dhoni 1
During his career, Bevan’s best numbers came when he batted at number six, where he made 3006 runs in 87 matches at 56.71.
Bevan possessed an all-round game, with a smart ability to play on both sides of the wicket, taking singles whenever available and keeping the team in the hunt.
Dhoni, on the other hand, played 129 matches and made 4164 runs at 47.31.
A strong bottom-handed player, Dhoni’s style of play revolved more around using his hands than his feet to get to the ball. His major strengths lay in hitting towards the off-side, at the cover, point and mid-off regions and when he needed, he brought out the helicopter shot on the leg-side.
For a higher batting average, a reflection of consistency always, Bevan gets the nod for being a better number six.
Result: Bevan 1, Dhoni 0
Overall: Bevan 1, Dhoni 1
3.Approach to finishing
The clincher, you could say. To bat at number six and yet have records as good as the above two have needs a lot of skill.
When all the top-order players fell, what came to Bevan’s rescue was a reliable seven and eight. In the early parts, it was either Ian Harvey, Paul Reiffel and Shane Warne who would walk in. Later, it evolved to Andy Bichel, Brett Lee and Brad Hogg.
None of the above six players mentioned was a walking wicket. What Bevan expected them was to hold on to their wickets. They were not world-class batsmen, but Bevan did not expect them to be.
He needed support from them and when he got it, he was more than willing to rotate the strike, not let the run-rate go above a point and eventually, after having soaked up the pressure, release it with boundaries.
Dhoni, on the other hand, had an older, primitive version of Ravindra Jadeja, a classic R Ashwin, a defiant Bhuvneshwar Kumar and that is it.
Many a time, a lot of criticism has come Dhoni’s way, for eating deliveries and taking the run-chase deep. But looking at the players that he had to try and win matches with, one could say that taking the matches to the end was the only plausible option at his disposal.
An evolved version of any of the three names could have helped Dhoni put some more faith in them, but not having that option meant he had to win games almost single-handedly and he did on many an occasion.
Simply on that account, Dhoni gets the nod ahead of Bevan for who was a better finisher.
Result: Bevan 0, Dhoni 1
Overall: Bevan 1, Dhoni 2.
In totality, both players had one important quality in common: patience. They knew to hang in there and never lost hope about winning the game.
The interesting bit is Bevan last played for Australia in 2004. Dhoni arrived the same year.
Assuming Dhoni has played his last game for India, who next then?