It's no secret that Mahendra Singh Dhoni, veritable Indian cricket legend and its most enigmatic personality, likes to do things his own way. Whether its his shock-and-awe tactics to drop seniors in ODIs ages ago, his sudden retirement from Tests, his Joginder Sharma trick in the 2007 T20 World Cup or his relinquishing of captaincy, Dhoni has always left everyone guessing and scratching their heads as to where his latest move came from.
However, this time, Dhoni seemed to have messed up with the latest rabbit he pulled out of his well-worn hat. After sustained criticism and calls for his head, MSD recused himself from the team that toured the Caribbean; no, he had not hung up his boots, he had taken a break to serve his army regiment. It was expected that the veteran 'keeper will return for the South Africa T20s, especially with the World T20 looming large.
But no, another shock awaited cricket fans and experts alike as Dhoni continued on his break and made himself ineligible for selection for that series as well.
The murmurs had grown into a loud buzz by then. Legends were saying the team needs to move ahead now. Rishabh Pant is the way forward - the white elephant has been around the dressing room for too long. Sunil Gavaskar, for example, was unequivocal in his assertion that Pant had to be India's pick for the T20 World Cup next year. It seemed Dhoni, by keeping himself in self-imposed exile, had almost robbed himself of a farewell tournament.
Fans and experts alike seemed to be of the opinion that MSD, past his prime and bereft of his famous killer instinct, should have called time on his career post the 2019 World Cup. But there remained a twist in the tale.
There's no doubt that Pant, the exuberant keeper-batsman, is the future of the team - especially in white-ball cricket; however, it seems the Delhi lad is imploding in recent times under the harsh glare of the spotlights.
First, Rishabh Pant's rash shot after getting set in the World Cup semi-final was roundly criticized, then came successive spells of immaturity with the bat that even made the coach Ravi Shastri chastise him publicly and now comes more failure with the willow in the South Africa T20 series.
All this has queered his pitch as the automatic choice for the T20 World Cup.
Did Dhoni do the right thing?
One cannot deny that there is a celebrity culture in Indian cricket. Giants like MSD can pick and choose the series they want to play whatever their form and the team situation might be. Whatever may be the pros and cons of such a scenario, in this case, Dhoni's exile seems to have benefited him. With Pant struggling, there seems to be no alternative to him right now for the T20 World Cup and the perfect swansong may still await one of Indian cricket's most mysterious but canny minds.Published 24 Sep 2019, 00:46 IST