Can anyone ever replace MS Dhoni?
The Indian legend Mahendra Singh Dhoni started his cricketing journey way back in 2004. He cemented his place in the national side primarily with his destructive batting style along with his very good wicketkeeping skills.
Up until then, India had produced very few good wicketkeepers, such as Farokh Engineer, Syed Kirmani, Kiran More and Nayan Mongia. However, they were mainly good wicketkeepers with acceptable batting stature; they wouldn't have been able to break into the team on the strength of their batting ability alone.
But Dhoni is different. Over the years, he has displayed a lethal combination of calmness and hard-hitting to become the best finisher in the game. While chasing any total against any team, his presence until the end ensures India’s win more often than not.
At 37, Dhoni is on the verge of ending his career. Having already retired in 2014 from the longest format, Test cricket, the upcoming marquee event - the ICC Word Cup 2019 - could very well be his last assignment for Team India.
Undoubtedly, Dhoni isn’t the same aggressive, free-flowing batsman that he used to be anymore. However, he is still the best wicketkeeper in the world in every technical aspect. Not just that, but his excellent awareness of the game situation, unmatched street smartness and immense experience make him nearly irreplaceable.
Discovering an exact replacement for Dhoni is not just a difficult task, but an almost impossible one.
Yet, in anticipation of his retirement, the BCCI have over the last few years been reviewing their options. From their long list of candidates, they have experimented with senior players such as Parthiv Patel, Naman Ojha and Wriddhiman Saha for Test matches, and Dinesh Karthik and Robin Uthappa for the shorter formats (ODIs and T20).
They have also given chances to some young and upcoming talents like KL Rahul, Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant.
In the very limited opportunities at the international level, all of these players have showcased decent batting expertise. Unfortunately however, their skills behind the stumps have looked very much a work in progress. These players are more batsman-wicketkeepers than wicketkeeper-batsmen.
Every once in a while, a simple catch gets dropped and a stumping opportunity goes begging. Both of those things are very rare when Dhoni is standing behind the stumps.
From the look of things, it appears that Rishabh Pant has earned the faith of the selectors for now, after his excellent show in Test matches against England and Australia. Pant does come across as a very strong contender to eventually replace Dhoni and play for India across all formats. Also, the very fact that he is young (21), may just work in his favor.
Moving forward, the BCCI will eventually have someone with strong skills to stand behind the stumps and take over the job for good. However, expecting someone of Dhoni's calibre is an unrealistic fantasy.
Dhoni isn’t just a wicketkeeper-batsman, but is a cricketing legend in every sense of the term.