Ever since chairman of national cricket selectors Mannava Sri Kanth Prasad said a year and half ago that his committee will start looking at alternatives to Mahendra Singh Dhoni only if the former captain fails to perform, both have been constantly under the scrutiny of the twitterati.
Former players-turned experts are also having a free run discussing Dhoni’s future, despite his assertion that he would be playing shorter formats till the 2019 World Cup. It makes little sense to talk about his post-World Cup status at this juncture.
The selectors have already found Dhoni’s replacement for Tests, now that his wicket-keeping successor Wriddhiman Saha is out with a serious injury. The selectors picked dashing Delhi batsman Rishabh Pant, glossing over wicket-keeping deficiencies, his world-record-equalling 11 catches in the first Test at Adelaide notwithstanding.
Mostly, Dhoni’s batting has come in for criticism, underscoring his rate of scoring and not looking the finisher he was winning matches.
Yes, gone are the days Dhoni could control the innings like he used to. Today he needs someone to stay with him and play to his plan. If he is batting with any of the top three – Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli – he has a different plan to the one he employs playing with Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik.
Dhoni can match any young man when it comes to running between the wickets. He has shown it in the last two matches which were taken to the end overs to finish. Jadhav and Karthik played exactly the way he wanted them to. His plan has always been to go into the last over with a reasonable target and more often than not he finishes the game in style.
He could have carried India to victory even in the first match, if only the leg-before decision had not gone against him as the replays showed the ball had pitched outside the leg-stump. What may have escaped notice is in his partnership with Kohli he outscored his captain and encouraged Jadhav to take chances to score more in their fifty-plus stands. Looking at the batsmen coming behind him, his presence is essential.
It is too much to expect Dhoni to score and win matches every time he goes out to bat. Even Kohli won’t be able to do that day in and day out. The best of plans can get undone and you can’t be holding one individual responsible for everything. For the time being the social media will go silent or hail the great man.
He should have been in the Twenty20 squad at the beginning of the tour, if only to get him some much-needed match-practice on the drop-in Australian pitches.
Now that the selectors sensibly included him in both the shorter formats for the New Zealand tour and that will give him eight matches – five ODIs and three T20s.
How can any cricketer at 37 be what he was 10 years ago? It is unfair to Dhoni to say that he is in the team for reasons other than his batting. He is essentially in the team for his primary job, wicket-keeping, plus his cricketing intelligence to help the team and the captain in particular with his inputs. There is no better man behind the stumps to judge the DRS and he rarely goes wrong in his judgment.
Cricket is not all about balls faced, dots, fours and sixes. None of the others seem to be under the microscope. Doni’s value to the side is much more than the mere number of balls he faced or runs he scored. Under pressure, he remained unbeaten in both the games that India won to claim the series, scoring a 50 plus and almost a hundred.
Then, there is a debate over the ideal batting slot for Dhoni. Some, including Vice Captain Rohit Sharma, feel that No.4 is the best position for him, but others think he should bat at five or six to mollycoddle the likes of Hardik Pandya, Jadhav and Karthik.
The advantage of his batting at No.4 is he gets to bat with Kohli often and there cannot be a better pair at the wicket than the two. The others can bat around them to make the middle-order look solid. As for adjustments, he can expertly manoeuvre the ball whatever be his reflexes and footwork.
As for hitting sixes nonchalantly like he used to do in his prime, that’s again a stupid comparison as the best of batsmen have made adjustments in their game to prolong their careers. He may not be hitting the helicopter shot, he still charged down the wicket to hit a couple of sixes at the Adelaide Oval.
His Man-of-the-Series award should silence his critics, primarily those who keep analysing his technique and footwork at his age!