The Dhoni Conundrum: Can Selectors Be Firm?

India will be playing three T20Is, three ODIs, and two Tests in the Caribbean, starting in the first week of August. With the selectors convening soon to chart Team India’s future after the World Cup, speculations are rife about MS Dhoni’s future. There’s no doubt that decisions taken by MSK Prasad and his merry men would be an indicator of things to come in the future.

Cricket - ICC Cricket World Cup - England v India - Edgbaston, Birmingham, Britain - June 30, 2019 India's MS Dhoni spits out blood after sucking his cut thumb Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Dhoni’s ODI figures are staggering. He has scored 10773 runs in 297 innings at a strike rate of 87.56. He is also one of the seven batsmen (with at least 40 ODIs) to average over 50. While he would easily be considered an ODI great, as a batsman, Dhoni’s contribution goes beyond what the numbers indicate.

After making his name as a top-order batsman, Dhoni has pushed himself down the order so he could play the role of a finisher. The Indian team has always been replete with top-order batsmen but rarely someone who could see a chase through. In India’s 57 successful chases between 2007 and the 2015 World Cup, Dhoni averaged an astonishing 101.64. Only twice has Dhoni remained unbeaten in a chase and India have lost.

There’s no denying Dhoni’s contribution as captain either. He has led India to victory in three major world tournaments – 2007 World T20, 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy. Even today, he is Virat Kohli’s chief advisor in the team, tinkering with the field and handing out valuable inputs to the bowlers.

But the 38-year old’s waning prowess with the bat over the last few years has been the center of discussion for over two years now. It was one of the reasons for India’s middle-order fragility. It was also one of the reasons why India couldn’t have a solid Plan B in case their reputed top order is challenged. Is it time that some youngster takes over?

This year, his performances have improved a notch. In chases, he has amassed 404 runs in 8 innings at a strike rate of 76.66. But these runs have come at a cost. Dhoni follows a template regardless of the situation his team is in and is unable to adapt himself to the needs of the situation anymore.

Dhoni and the art of self-denial

In the middle overs, against spinners, neither is he able to rotate strike nor is he able to score boundaries. Those who argue that he takes it deep seem to forget that in ODIs since 2017, his strike rate in the last ten overs is a mere 119.28 and his dot ball percentage is over 30 per cent.

Those who suggest that he retire after the World T20 in 2020 seem to forget the fact that Dhoni hasn’t been as prolific in T20 internationals as he has been with the Chennai Super Kings. He has led CSK to three IPL trophies and two Champions League trophies and scores at over 140 per 100 balls. For India, he has managed just 1617 runs in 85 T20I innings at 37.6, a figure that looks far less impressive if you include his 42 not outs. His strike rate which has been a point of contention in ODIs is just as bad in T20s as he is scoring at 125 per 100 balls between 17 and 20 overs.

Dhoni’s form is not merely about him but also about players who bat alongside him. His inability to rotate the strike and stay abreast with the asking rate often costs the batsmen who are batting with him. On top of all these considerations, this decision is also about embracing the future.

Two years shy of 40, it is unlikely that Dhoni is going to be able to continue till the 2023 World Cup. And it would be unbecoming of the selectors who are paid handsomely to let players, however big their reputation, decide their future in a national team, a team that should at all times constitute eleven of a country’s best athletes.

At 21, Rishabh Pant has already been entrusted with Test match gloves. He even has Test hundreds in England and Australia. With four years to plan, this would be the ideal time for the selectors to pass the baton to Pant and provide him with a long rope.