The implications of Covid-19 on MS Dhoni's international career
- MS Dhoni hasn't played any competitive cricket since the semi-final of the ODI World Cup 2019.
- Can he make it to the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup if IPL 2020 doesn't take place?
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has always been a crucial tournament for everyone concerned given the spotlight that it gets around the world. But one player for whom IPL 2020 is particularly important is former Indian captain - MS Dhoni.
Dhoni hasn’t played any competitive cricket since his infamous run-out in the semi-final of the ODI World Cup 2019. Yet, the Indian selection committee and the Indian team management have never ruled out the possibility of his potential comeback for the T20 World Cup in Australia later in the year.
The selectors and the head coach Ravi Shastri have insisted that it would be down to Dhoni’s performance in the IPL. The newly appointed chief selector Sunil Joshi made this very clear in his first interaction with the media.
“Dhoni will be back in reckoning only if he has a good IPL.”
Going by Joshi’s statement, it can be safely assumed that if Dhoni doesn't live up to the expectations in the IPL, the selection committee would not consider him for the T20 World Cup, despite his experience and stature.
But is it that straightforward?
The question is, why are the Indian selectors still relatively keen to keep the door open for a player who has often been criticised for his under-par performances in the last couple of years?
The reason why India have struggled to move past Dhoni despite him not being at his peak anymore is because they have not found a player to do exactly the kind of role that Dhoni has been doing for nearly a decade and a half.
It’s not that India have not found quality wicket-keeper batsmen. KL Rahul is currently India’s first choice with the gloves in both ODI and T20I cricket and has been doing exceptionally well. Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson, who are the second and the third in the pecking order respectively also have the credentials to go on and be world-class, given time and patience.
But Dhoni was not just another wicket-keeper batsman who was extraordinarily talented with the bat. He used to do a unique job for India. Apart from his brilliant glovework, what was precious was his batting at no. 6. While India has had a rich history of top-order batsmen, Dhoni has been India’s first proper finisher in white ball cricket.
Batting at 4 down demands consistent boundary-hitting, sometimes for a considerable length of time. It requires a diverse skill-set. The batsman can’t just be a slogger or he will fall more often than not, considering the high-risk nature of the job. It needs sharp game-sense and the ability to calculate risks. Dhoni has been a complete package of all these qualities.
India has had the likes of Kapil Dev and Ajay Jadeja who met the demands of the job of a white-ball finisher in the previous decades, but they couldn’t do it with as much consistency, surety and precision as Dhoni did.
Coming to Dhoni’s replacement in the current Indian set-up, the wicket-keepers who have replaced him or are in line to do so are all top-order batsmen. KL Rahul and Sanju Samson are touch players and are probably not the best options to have at the crease when the ball gets old and soft. Rishabh Pant can muscle the ball, but he doesn’t seem to have the natural ability to calculate the risk.
All three of them can get into a lot of international sides as a top-order wicket-keeper batsman, but probably none of them will get in if the side is specifically looking for a wicket-keeper who can finish the innings. This has precisely been the reason why the Indian team management has been hesitant to declare that they have moved past Dhoni.
Dhoni’s IPL numbers would have given the selectors a clearer picture as to where he stands in terms of his fitness and form. But IPL 2020 doesn’t seem to be a realistic possibility amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
The tournament has been postponed for a couple of weeks for now, but unless and until the number of new cases comes down to zero in various different continents around the world, the Government of India is unlikely to accept the visas of the foreign players. IPL today seems a long, long way away.
If IPL 2020 gets cancelled altogether, should Dhoni be picked for the T20 World Cup (a tournament which might have to be postponed itself) just because India have not been able to find a player similar in his mould?
When we talk about Dhoni being a unique player and having a rare skill-set, what must also be kept in mind is that he has not been on full tilt recently. There have been numerous instances since 2017 where he has been criticised for either miscalculating the risk or erring while executing the big shots.
At a time when it’s more or less clear that Dhoni has already played the best cricket of his career, the chances of his comeback look extremely bleak. But as the former Indian batsman Wasim Jaffer recently said,
“You can’t look beyond a fit and an in-form MS Dhoni.”
Published 23 Mar 2020, 13:03 IST