The mental gymnastics currently being performed by Virat Kohli and the Indian team management has to be applauded for effort, even as an air of uncertainty continues to linger over MS Dhoni’s international future.
The veteran wicketkeeper-batsman’s India future has been the source of constant speculation ever since the 2019 World Cup drew to a close. The picture isn’t any clearer for both selectors and fans alike nearly two months later.
The 38-year-old made himself ‘unavailable’ for India’s recent tour of the West Indies, with young Rishabh Pant being handed the gloves for all three formats in the Caribbean. At the time of the squad announcement, chief selector MSK Prasad stated in clear terms that Pant was being groomed as the long-term wicketkeeper of India going forward.
Fast forward a few weeks and Dhoni’s name was the big absentee as India named their T20 squad for the upcoming series against South Africa at home. Once again, the official line from selector Prasad at the squad announcement was that Dhoni had made himself unavailable for the clashes.
It is impossible to guess what exactly is going on in Dhoni’s mind right now, but there’s no denying that his silence on the issue is only adding to the pressure on Kohli and the rest of the team management.
Kohli witnessed firsthand the frenzy surrounding Dhoni and a potential retirement when he tweeted an image on his social media with a tribute to the veteran. That innocuous image sent India social media in a tailspin, with many taking it as an indication of an upcoming retirement for the Ranchi wicketkeeper.
When Kohli addressed the media on the eve of the T20 series against South Africa a day later, the questions on Dhoni were bound to come.
“Look experience is always going to matter whether you like it or not,” he replied.
“I mean there are a numerous number of times people have given up on sportsmen, and they have proved people wrong, and he has done that many times in his career as well. So, one great thing about him is that he thinks for India cricket.
“And whatever we think, he is on the same page. The alignment is there. The kind of mindset he has had is to groom youngsters and give them opportunities, and he is still the same person.”
Is the ‘alignment’ Kohli talks about really there? Are Dhoni and the Indian team management really on the same page? Unfortunately, it is all too vague.
At the age of 38, the only realistic milestone available for Dhoni is competing in the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia. His Test career is long over, while there is really no point in persisting with him in the ODI format given that the next four-year World Cup cycle has only gotten under way recently.
With Pant declared as the long-term successor by the team management, it is expected that the youngster will don the gloves for India in the 2023 World Cup set to take place in the subcontinent.
As such, it would make sense for India to go with Pant as the first-choice in the 2020 T20 World Cup as well if they are to properly blood him and prepare him for the biggest of stages in international cricket.
To be fair to the India team selectors and team management, they have still stuck to their guns by persisting with Pant against West Indies and now South Africa in the absence of clarity over Dhoni’s future. Whether the decision has been taken in ‘alignment’ with Dhoni or in defiance of him will only become clear in the months ahead.
With Dhoni not giving any indication of the future for now, his potential return to the team will continue to hang like a sword over the heads of Pant and other aspiring India wicketkeeepers.
For now, the former World Cup winning skipper remains the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ and is the kind of unneeded attention that Kohli and team India could well do without as they look to build for the future.
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