Is it the right time for MS Dhoni to pass on the ODI wicketkeeper baton to Rishabh Pant?
The 21-year-old Rishabh Pant scored an attacking 92 in the first Test against the West Indies at Rajkot. In a partnership of 133 runs with Virat Kohli, he outscored his captain by a long margin. Such occasions where Kohli is outplayed by his partner, are an absolute rarity. This knock from Pant comes after his scintillating counter-attacking hundred in the fifth Test of the series against England at the Oval. Both these knocks showcased his wonderful array of strokes.
These batting heroics of India’s current Test wicketkeeper come as a stark contrast to the alarming drop in the batting form of India’s long-time ODI wicketkeeper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. His struggles in the recently concluded Asia Cup are a reminder of his waning batting prowess. He is struggling to rotate the strike in the middle overs, and when he comes at the end of an innings, we rarely see him being able to launch into those ‘helicopter’ shots. He is even struggling against spin big time.
This begs the question: Is it time to blood the explosive youngster at the expense of an ageing Dhoni? Though one may be tempted to answer to this in the affirmative, a prudent decision would be to let Dhoni continue till the World Cup in England next year, which in all probability will be Dhoni’s swan song.
Such a decision need not be made on an emotional ground or out of respect for someone who has served Indian cricket well for so long and has led India to ODI and T20 World Cup triumphs.
The decision to retain Dhoni till the World Cup has to be based purely on cricketing merit. Despite all of Pant’s heroics with the bat, he is nowhere close to a finished product when it comes to his wicketkeeping skills. Even though Dhoni’s batting has come under scrutiny in recent times, his wicketkeeping skills have shown no sign of deteriorating. Some of his stumpings in Asia Cup were ones for the ages.
Catches dropped or stumpings missed by Pant may hurt India’s chances more than a lack of runs from Dhoni. Moreover, Dhoni’s experience in big matches and tournaments will come in handy for the Indian captain. In the Asia Cup, we have seen Rohit Sharma getting a lot of timely advice from Dhoni and even Kohli constantly looks up to MSD for suggestions on the field.
Finally, unlike many Indian cricketers in the past, including the greats of the game, Dhoni is not someone who would overstay his welcome. His decision to step down from Test Cricket and give the reigns to Virat Kohli in the middle of the 2014 Australia Test Series had shocked the entire cricketing fraternity.
So, despite the heroics of Pant with the bat, he must wait for his chance. In the meanwhile, he must hone his wicketkeeping skills.