Following all the glitz and glory of a highly decorated international career which has already lasted for 13 years, MS Dhoni is now entering a phase in which he has to justify his selection, each time he will take the field, wearing that blue Indian jersey. At 36, Dhoni is not anymore, an automatic choice in the India’s limited-overs’ set-up, the chief selector MSK Prasad has recently revealed this. Thus, from the ongoing five-match One-Day International (ODI) series in Sri Lanka, which has started at Dambulla from Sunday, the wicketkeeper-batsman has entered the most challenging phase of his career.
Time and again, Dhoni has publicly expressed his desire of playing in the 2019 World Cup in England. This is the sole reason, why he is still hanging around in international cricket. Last year, after India’s semi-final exit from the ICC World T20, an Australian reporter asked him about his retirement plans and Dhoni made it crystal clear that he is confident enough to last till 2019.
But does the Indian think-tank also think on the same line?
Well, Prasad, who himself was a wicketkeeper during his playing days, believes, the former World-Cup winning skipper is well in the contention, but he needs to deliver consistently to remain in the frame of schemes.
“I was just reading [Andre] Agassi’s book, Open, his life actually started after 30 years. Till then he won two or three. His actual life started after that. He lived with media pressure, ‘When are you going to retire?’ But he played till 36 and he won so many Grand Slams. So, you never know. We don’t say it is an automatic this thing… but we will see. We are all stakeholders. We all want the Indian team to do well. If he [Dhoni] is delivering, why not? If he is not, we will have to look at alternatives,” Prasad told the media before the start of the one-day series.
Meanwhile, critics argue, when the selection committee is ready to look beyond the seniors like Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, then why the same policy doesn’t apply to Dhoni?
Well, here, one has to look into his present impact in the Indian team, before coming to any judgement.
Dhoni is still one of the fittest members of the Indian team. His keeping is almost flawless and in the middle-order, his experience as a batsman is still irreplaceable. Till date, his batting average of 51.32 in ODIs is the sixth best in the world and second only to Virat Kohli’s 54.68 amongst Indians. Kohli, meanwhile, has played 107 fewer matches than Dhoni.
So, unlike Yuvraj and Raina, Dhoni’s presence is still a necessity for the team.
However, despite all these credentials, in recent times, especially after his average outings in the Champions Trophy in England and limited-overs series in the West Indies, MSD had to face a lot of criticisms due to his fading reputation as a finisher.
Last month, following his struggling 54 off 114 balls, during the course of an 11-run defeat against West Indies at North Sound, a section of the media raised concern, whether Dhoni will be an integral part of the team when the 2019 ICC World Cup comes around. Remember, he will be 38 by that time.
Well, the team management does not want to jump the gun right now, especially while deciding on the fate of an unpredictable character like Dhoni. Out of the blue, one fine day, he might come out and play a breathtaking knock like the one he played at Cuttack against England (A 122-ball 134 after India were reduced to 25 for 3 in the fifth over) earlier this year.
In fact, both Kohli and head-coach Ravi Shastri understand that Dhoni is kind of a person who himself will step aside if he feels that he is not adding a value to the team.
Leading into the next World Cup, India are expected to pay at least 30 ODIs. That means the selectors will face a challenge to provide Dhoni with enough number matches to prove his worth as well as groom a newcomer like Rishabh Pant to take up the wicket-keeping duties in a high-profile event like the World Cup if needed.
Thus, opportunities will be limited for Dhoni. One bad series and he will be sidelined.
“The legend that he is, we don’t want to make it [rotations]… but yes we have a plan [If Dhoni doesn’t perform],” the chief selector clarified his point of view quite aptly.
However, knowing Dhoni, he would prefer stepping down gracefully. Rest assured, he won’t be beating around the bush.