Opinion: Maybe we have seen the last of MS Dhoni in the blue jersey
- The former skipper has not donned national colors since the 2019 World Cup semifinal defeat against New Zealand.
- With KL Rahul's scintillating form, it is hard to see Dhoni back in the Indian team.
The heartbreaking defeat against New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semifinal is still fresh in the minds of many Indian fans. Had MS Dhoni not been run-out in that match, maybe, just maybe, he would have finished yet another game for the Men in Blue and would have taken them to the final. However, that was not meant to be as India bowed out and so did Dhoni, who has not donned national colors ever since.
With speculations about his retirement rising each day, head coach Ravi Shastri had said in an interview that a good IPL season would surely put him back among the scheme of things as far as representing the country is concerned.
However, with the outbreak of coronavirus and the discussion about IPL 2020 being possibly canceled, only one question pops into our mind - Will MS Dhoni ever play for India again?
The former skipper had a very poor 2018 by his standards as he scored just 275 runs in 20 ODIs at an average of just 25.00 leading into the World Cup. He had started showing signs of slowing down and age getting the better of him as he was struggling to time the ball on a few occasions. It was clear that from being the brilliant finisher who could hit sixes at will, Dhoni had turned into a batsman who needed some time at the crease to get his eye in.
He had a good 2019 though, scoring 600 runs in 18 ODIs at an average of 60, with his highest score being an unbeaten 87 against Australia. Dhoni had become an important cog in the ever-changing Indian middle-order. Even amidst the whole brouhaha surrounding the number four slot, Dhoni remained the glue that held the team together.
For a player who now needed time to get his eye in, sending him in at number seven perplexed most cricket pundits. Who knows what would have happened had he come earlier to bat in the semifinal as he did in the 2011 World Cup final by coming ahead of Yuvraj Singh and bossing the game. Dhoni's intent in the match was questioned as he played a relatively slower inning as compared to Ravindra Jadeja's blinder, which almost got India home. However, asking him to be a finisher was apparently something that he wasn't comfortable with. At least not anymore.
The post-World Cup 2019 period saw team India moving on from Dhoni in both T20 and ODI formats, even though there were two T20 World Cups to be played in the next one year. Rishabh Pant was tipped to be his successor in limited-overs cricket for the Men in Blue. However, he was not able to show the composure and consistency required and thus failed to make the most of his chances. In 12 ODIs in 2019, he was able to score only 305 runs at an average of only 27.72.
Soon, the Indian team management lost their patience with Pant and restored Wriddhiman Saha as the team's number one choice for wicket-keeping in the longest format. As far as the white-ball format was concerned, KL Rahul showed some fine form while batting in the middle-order for India. His knock of 80 runs at Rajkot in the second ODI against Australia compelled the team management to change its tactics.
Rahul was now backed as India's first-choice wicket-keeper and he did extremely well in the five games he donned the gloves in, scoring 303 runs at an amazing average of 75.75, with a highest score of 112. His ability to change gears and find boundaries at regular intervals gave both skipper Virat Kohli and the team management the confidence that him batting in the middle-order was the way to move forward in ODI cricket.
Soon, KL Rahul was set to replace Pant as India's first-choice keeper in the shortest format. Rahul's fine form with the bat during Shikhar Dhawan's absence has helped him make a case for himself to be permanently accorded the opener's position ahead of the southpaw. In his last 14 T20Is, Rahul has scored 562 runs at an average of 51.09, making him virtually undroppable from the Indian team.
MS Dhoni's last five T20Is saw him score 140 runs at an average of 43.33 and many are in favor of him getting selected ahead of Pant in India's T20 World Cup squad.
However, former Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar believes that with nine months away from the game, it will be very tough for Dhoni to make a comeback into the Indian team irrespective of whether the IPL takes place and whether or not he performs well in it. With Rahul in such fine form and the team management putting their faith in Rishabh Pant as a backup, maybe we have seen the last of MS Dhoni in the blue jersey.Published 24 Mar 2020, 16:09 IST