The bittersweet tale of MS Dhoni
Ravi Shastri summed it up in a most beautiful manner. Those words will forever be etched in the memory of Indian cricket fans.
“Dhoni finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lift the World Cup after 28 years. The party has started in the dressing room. And it’s an Indian captain, who has been absolutely magnificent on the night of the final!"
Make no mistake, it was a perfect tale, almost as if it was scripted in heaven by the Cricketing Gods themselves. India won the World Cup. The nation deserved it, and above all Sachin deserved it. The Master Blaster deserved to end his career with the biggest prize in the kitty. MS Dhoni, delivered a masterstroke. He gambled by promoting himself up the order, and won India the World Cup.
Fast forward seven years, and we have a struggling Dhoni. He is sluggish and seems to be going nowhere with bat in hand. In One Day Internationals this year, he has walked out to bat 13 times and scored just 275 runs at a paltry average of 25 and an unimpressive strike rate of 71. Poor performances is a common occurrence, irrespective of venue and opposition. Unbelievably, his best score this year is just 42. In the pressure game, the Asia Cup final, when India needed him the most, he scored 36 off 67 deliveries. If India had lost, Dhoni would definitely have been in the critic spotlight.
Why Dhoni should not retire
The argument is simple and obvious. MS Dhoni is still India's best bet with the gloves. He is extremely fit and very agile behind the stumps. In One Day Internationals this year, he has 17 catches and 10 stumping (27 dismissals). This is pretty impressive given that he has played only 20 matches. To give you more perspective, in 2011, he had 23 dismissals (17 catches and 6 stumping) from 24 matches.
Apart from his keeping prowess, Dhoni has a major calming influence on the team. It is no secret that Virat Kohli is hot-headed. Don't get me wrong, the aggression can really benefit the team when being forced onto the back foot, but, when emotions run high, judgement is affected. In many ways, Virat is not mature enough to handle the team alone yet. A calm head at the top is always necessary for the success of any cricketing unit, and that is exactly what Dhoni brings to the table.
His presence could be valuable to some of the young folk in the team. He can also serve as a role model for anyone who wants to learn the art of wicket keeping or chasing down big scores in high pressure games. Guys like Rishabh Pant and Khaleel Ahmed are lucky to have the first hand opportunity of learning from a modern day great like Dhoni.
Why Dhoni should retire
The old adage is that, if you have a choice between someone past his prime and someone who hasn't entered his prime yet, you go with the latter irrespective of context. His batting doesn't do him any favours. The question really being, is India in a position to ignore the flaws of Dhoni the batsman and play him just as a specialist keeper? The answer might disappoint Dhoni fans altogether.
Currently, India looks like the most settled bowling side in the world. Domestic coaches and training academies deserve credit for the vast improvement seen in the bowlers being bred in India, especially the fast bowlers. The batting, on the other hand is a different story. In ODIs, India are heavily dependent on the top 3 and due to the dominance shown by them, the middle order has largely been under-utilised. This has allowed Dhoni and Co to slip under the radar at times. This is a horrible position to be in. Restructuring is essential and Dhoni is almost an obstacle.
If Dhoni decides to call it a day, Rishabh Pant will be thrust onto the main stage both with bat and with the gloves. This could be the necessary exposure he needs before the World Cup next year. Newer combinations in the middle order can then be explored and a restructured team could be prepared for the looming World Cup. Slotting Dhoni in that middle order, makes it difficult to come up with the ideal combination.
The road ahead
Both Rishabh Pant and MS Dhoni had a remarkable run in the IPL this year and have struggled ever since. The century Pant scored against England on the fifth day of the final Test of that series could be a trailer of what is to come. Having said that, he hasn't shown the kind of consistency that can reassure the team management about their faith in him.
Pant, the keeper, though has a long way to go before he could be considered in the same league as Dhoni. In fact, none of the other keepers in the reckoning can even be considered in the same league as Dhoni. Dinesh Karthik might be better than Pant, but cannot match Dhoni's skill behind the stumps.
In any case, I think the biggest reason Dhoni is still considered as the first choice keeper in ODIs is the stature and name value that Dhoni brings. It is not entirely wrong to say that, Dhoni was the man that won India the World Cup in 2011. That itself makes a case for his presence in the World Cup side. Quoting the Dark Knight,
"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
When, AB de Villiers retired earlier this year, it really shouldn't have come as a shock. Many greats called it a day, before age started hampering their performance. Dhoni clearly differs from this thought process and sadly he is living long enough to become the villain.
Will Dhoni be a part of the World Cup side? In my opinion, he will be. I don't think the team management will drop him from the side. They'll argue that the pros far outweigh the cons and there might just be some truth to that. How will things turn out for the team? That really is the million dollar question. Nobody can predict the future. Nobody can speculate. At this stage, it is anybody's guess.