To be candid, it should not come as a surprise that reports of MS Dhoni’s retirement post the 2019 World Cup have surfaced. Don Bradman, Vivian Richards, Glen McGrath, Sachin Tendulkar and many other greats have walked away from the game after playing their part.
No one can be a constant at the highest level of the game for more than a few years. And Dhoni, to his credit, has served the team for 15 long years, since making his ODI debut in 2004.
Criticise him all you want, but even the critics will agree that there will be a certain void in Team India once Dhoni is gone.
Be it smashing the ball to all parts of the park in his heydays or dropping anchor at the slightest sense of the team in trouble, Dhoni has produced many a match-winning knock for India. So, once he is gone, things are bound to shake up.
There is little doubt that Rishabh Pant will replace Dhoni as the full-time keeper-batsman in both ODIs and T20Is. Dinesh Karthik has long missed the bus, and the selectors will now want to invest in young talent. KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane have had their chances, but haven’t inspired enough confidence.
One can’t be sure about the prospect of Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav either, as the team management will now look to experiment and give potentially better options a go for a year or so. Ambati Rayudu has retired from all forms of cricket which cancels out another option.
Team India already has enough firepower with Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant in the mix. Pant is likely to bat at No 4 to give the team the impetus in the middle overs and Pandya seems perfect for No 6.
So, in essence, the team will be looking for a No 5 batsman who can they can invest in for the long haul. Although the likes of Nitish Rana, Surya Kumar Yadav, Manish Pandey and Rahul Tripathi provide them options, the selectors will be looking towards the following players as the front runners:
Essentially an opener, Mayank Agarwal has been called in to be a part of the World Cup squad as the replacement of Vijay Shankar to fill in as an option for both the opening slot and No 4. The way Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have been batting since the 2013 Champions Trophy, any vacancy at the top of the order is unlikely, unless of course, either of them is rested or gets injured.
But with the skill – being equally good at shot-making and turning over the strike – that the Karnataka batsman possesses, he can bat at No 5 for a few years and then graduate to the top of the order, once either Rohit or Shikhar decide to walk away.
Agarwal toured England for India A last year for a tri-series and ended as the highest run-scorer for the team, piling up 287 runs from four games at an average of 71.75, and a strike rate of 105.90. The prolific run-scorer has a List A average of 48.71 and a first-class average of over 50.
U-19 World Cup winner Shubman Gill earned his maiden senior national team call-up for the New Zealand tour, preceding an impressive IPL season for the Kolkata Knight Riders. Although he could not leave a mark in the two ODI innings that he played, there is no dearth of talent in the youngster. The fact that the selectors called him as a replacement for KL Rahul clearly shows that he is in their scheme of things.
Gill was at the centre of India’s title win in the 2018 U-19 World Cup, making 418 runs at an astonishing average of 104.50. The stylish batsman already has a breathtaking first-class average of over 77, with three centuries in just nine matches.
A testament to Gill’s quality is that Yuvraj Singh, one of the finest middle-order batsmen that India has ever produced, has backed the youngster on various occasions, earmarking him as a long-time prospect for Team India.
The Delhi Capitals skipper Shreyas Iyer did well in the limited opportunities that he got but was then sidelined for some inexplicable reason. Iyer scored 210 runs from the five ODI innings that he played and looked like he belonged at the big stage. The right-hander also scored two half-centuries and can be back in the contention for a middle-order spot once the World Cup gets over.
Iyer won the emerging player of the year award in the 2015 IPL edition, after scoring 439 runs from 14 matches. In 70 List-A matches, Iyer has scored 2647 runs for Mumbai at an average of over 50. The way he has earned the respect of his IPL franchise as a young captain is a great sign of his temperament, which is the currency of any middle-order batsman.
(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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