As India laments a disappointing semifinal exit from the 2019 World Cup campaign, an important question looms ahead; is there no place for MS Dhoni in the Indian cricket team?
It is a pertinent question all right, considering that a plethora of fans have been holding the legendary former captain and wicket-keeper accountable for the World Cup result.
A section of the vast Indian population has been baying for his blood and clamouring for his head to roll.
Some have been gracious enough in offering the man from Ranchi, an escape route by virtue of a voluntary retirement.
Amidst all the hullabaloo, Dhoni pulled out of the tour of West Indies (in which India enjoyed tremendous success).
The 38-year-old informed the BCCI that he would be taking a two-month sabbatical from the game to serve the Parachute Regiment of the Territorial Army, where he is an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel.
But it surprised many that the Selection Committee ignored him for the three-match T20 series against South Africa beginning in Dharamshala on September 15.
The selection committee which met on August 29, preferred to largely stick with the same winning squad which whitewashed West Indies 3-0 in the T20 series recently.
When asked for comments, chairman of selectors, MSK Prasad had this to say: “Retirement is purely individual (decision). A legendary cricketer like Dhoni, he knows when to retire.”
“What is the future course of action, that is in the hands of the selection committee. I don’t think we need to discuss anything more on it. Second, we have already started grooming youngsters.”
“Post World Cup, we have laid down a few more plans and we thought of giving as many opportunities as possible to Rishabh Pant and to see he is groomed. That is our plan right now and we did discuss this with him (Dhoni).”
A 42-ball 65 in the final T20 against the West Indies has been Pant’s only decent outing in the Caribbean. But the selectors as well as the team management are prepared to give the Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman a long rope.
All said and done, it is almost inconceivable to think about an India one-day side without Mahendra Singh Dhoni orchestrating things from behind the stumps or at the business end of a run chase.
This is, after all, a man who made his debut in 2004. But time has managed to catch up with India’s modern-day great.
The physical signs have been there for a while. And now, as Indians the world over feared, indicators are creeping into his cricket.
Known as the best finisher in modern-day limited overs’ cricket, Dhoni has been criticised for his slow and sluggish starts off late.
That intensified when he failed to lead his team to the grandstand finish which became his signature in a group-stage defeat by England.
So is it time for 38-year-old Dhoni, a veteran of 348 one-day internationals, to step down? And how will his loss impact India?
Dhoni is revered in India having led the team to a World Cup title on home soil in 2011. That was arguably his peak.
Such knocks don’t feel as frequent now, despite the stats showing Dhoni is averaging 61.11 in 2019. Where he falls down is his strike-rate.
In recent times, the immediate reaction to Dhoni is that he uses up a lot of dot balls and is not able to score as quickly as he used to.
Dhoni captained India for almost a decade, from 2007 until 2017. Under his leadership, they won the World Twenty20, World Cup and Champions Trophy.
And it is this leadership, perhaps more than his batting, which many feel India – and current captain Kohli – will miss the most, in Dhoni’s continued absence.
It goes without saying that a cricketer whose stature is as big as that of the man from Jharkhand, deserves the luxury of being capable to decide his retirement on his own.
Any other way would probably be severe injustice to a man who has given his all to all things Indian cricket.
Most importantly, India can afford to persist with MS Dhoni while simultaneously giving junior wicket-keepers chances here and there.
Even though the 2023 World Cup seems to be too high a mountain for Dhoni climb, the 2020 T20 World Cup could be a perfect retirement platform.
Right now though, it remains to be seen if he still figures in India’s plans for the future.