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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Despite the recent tip-off for a potential terror threat to the tour, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ehsan Mani has expressed his confidence in hosting Sri Lanka in Pakistan for limited-overs clashes later this month.
Sri Lanka are due to tour Pakistan for three ODIs and as many T20Is beginning from September but a spanner was thrown into the works recently after Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) received intel from its government for a possible terror threat.
That prompted the SLC to declare that they would be ‘reassessing’ the security conditions for the tour despite a two-member delegation from the board earlier giving the all-clear for the tour after a visit to Pakistan last month.
Despite the latest developments, the PCB chairman remains confident that the tour will go ahead as planned.
“Our decision is very clear and we are not exploring any other neutral venue,” Mani told the media in Lahore on Friday.
“We don’t have the time to shift or lookout for any other option right now. Our default position is that it is Pakistan’s home series and it will be played in the country.
“This has been the understanding right from the start and we are in discussions with the Sri Lanka board and they are also very positive about sending their team.”
The tour is slated to take place in Karachi and Lahore with the former hosting the three ODIs while the latter will be the stage for the three-match T20 series. As many as 10 Sri Lanka players including skippers Dimuth Karunaratne and Lasith Malinga had earlier made themselves unavailable for the tour after citing security concerns.
In their absence, Sri Lanka have named rejigged ODI and T20 teams led by Lahiru Thirimanne and Dasun Shanaka respectively. While the big Sri Lanka stars may be missing, Mani is under no doubts that SLC will fulfil its commitments to the PCB.
“We didn’t get any negative feedback from their board and they never said that they are not coming,” he said.
“All they are seeking is their government’s permission and they are engaging with them. There are speculations that they are sending their under-strength team but it’s their prerogative.
“But what is important that international cricket will be played in Pakistan, and Sri Lanka is fulfilling their commitment.”
Australia captain Tim Paine denied his side had let the verbal warfare go too far as England laid the foundations for an Ashes-levelling victory in the final Test.
England batted throughout day three as they piled up a towering lead of 382 at The Oval, and will look to stretch that past 400 when they resume on 313 for eight.
The tourists attempted to unsettle the hosts with a stream of chatter in a tense morning session, with Matthew Wade seemingly to the fore, and the stump microphone picked up attempts to wind up Ben Stokes during his combative knock of 67.
The England all-rounder missed the last Ashes series Down Under after his arrest for a late night scuffle in Bristol – an incident that ultimately led to his acquittal on charges of affray – and references to the city were seemingly audible from the close fielders.
Paine was brought in to captain his country in an overt attempt to clean up Australia’s reputation and conduct following the sandpaper scandal and did not take kindly to suggestions he had overseen a slip in standards.
“You tell me. It’s competitive Test cricket and people are going to talk to each other,” he said.
“I don’t know why it’s such an issue. It’s fine. They are grown men having a conversation, no-one is swearing, no-one is abusing anyone: it’s Test match cricket and I don’t understand why so much is made of something so little, particularly given the standard of cricket being played.
“I think there’s so much more to talk about. I think both sides have played this series in good spirit.”
Joe Denly was out in the middle for longer than any other batsman as he underpinned the England innings with a career-best innings of 94, and he declined to fan the flames any further.
“I didn’t hear anything about Bristol but when Ben comes to the crease, the kind of player he is, they’re going to try and unsettle him,” he said.
“Stokesy deals with that pretty well. There’s always going to be a bit of niggle but nothing over the line, just a bit of friendly banter.”
Denly has had a memorable few days, having become a father for the second time in between the first and second days of the match. To follow that personal news up with a performance of real grit and substance in his final appearance of the summer left him content and surprisingly well rested.
“I had a very good last night because I stayed at the hotel and got about 10 hours! The previous night I only had about three hours so I caught up,” he said.
“I missed the birth of my first child – he arrived three weeks early and I was playing in Derby, the midwife said ‘don’t rush’ so I didn’t! I hit traffic and missed it by about five minutes. So it was good to get there and see my little girl come into the world. It’s been a pretty special couple of days.
“It would have been nice to get to the milestone having worked so hard but I’d probably take it, yeah. England are in a very strong position going into day four and hopefully we get a few more runs and put them under pressure.”
Provided by Press Association Sports