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In January 2017, MS Dhoni announced that he was stepping down from captaincy in the limited overs formats, a decision that was met with understanding and shock in equal measure. One side of the public argued that he didn't have anything left to prove, while the other half boldly stated that Virat Kohli, his successor, didn't have it in him to lead the national side.
In the last three years, Virat Kohli the batsman has achieved a level of performance never seen before and is undoubtedly the best batter the world has ever seen across all three formats. In 89 ODIs at the helm, Virat Kohli averages a stupendous 74.59 (more than 15 points above his career average), with 21 hundreds to his name.
However, Virat Kohli the captain has been unassertive at his worst and only mildly successful at his best, both for India and for the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Much unlike his predecessor, he has shown a propensity for change with little to no reason, and his constant alterations more often than not seem to be knee-jerk.
Perhaps the most damning testimony to this theory is the career of MS Dhoni, which has been under immense scrutiny since he handed over the reins.
MS Dhoni under Virat Kohli
Contrary to popular opinion, the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) skipper's numbers are superb under Virat Kohli. In 57 matches, Dhoni has scored 1513 runs at an astonishing average of 56.03 (6 points over his career average). Moreover, in the year 2019, Dhoni averaged 66.55, with almost 700 runs in 17 innings.
With these stats now known, it is almost impossible to understand why MS Dhoni, the greatest Indian captain of all time, is having his place in the team constantly questioned by critics. The only possible answer is the uncertainty surrounding his role - something that has plagued every cricketer to have played under Virat Kohli.
The former Indian skipper has made no secret of his desire to bat higher up the order since handing over the responsibility of captaincy to Virat Kohli, and rightly so. MS Dhoni no longer needs to be the man to win every game for his country; India have a whole host of lower-middle-order batsmen suited to the job - Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja to name a few.
However, under Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni has played only one innings at No. 4, where he scored 87* in a successful chase of 231 against Australia. In the 26 innings he has played under the Delhi batsman at No. 5, Dhoni averages 50.75, with his highest score under Kohli of 134 coming at this position.
At No. 6, Dhoni has been as spectacular as we know him to be at the position, averaging 69.42, but he has played only 23 matches. The CSK captain has even played 7 innings at No. 7, and here, we finally see the numbers start to drop - he averages only 32, with a high score of only 50.
It is peculiar that a cricketer of the stature of MS Dhoni is being used as a floater, with his innings split almost evenly across four batting positions. It is even more confusing when you consider the fact that Ambati Rayudu, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Vijay Shankar, and Shreyas Iyer have all been given opportunities at No. 4, but MS Dhoni, who averages 56.58 at 4 and 82.75 at 3 over the course of his career, hasn't been given an extended run.
This tendency of Virat Kohli's to chop and change is not restricted to the Indian team, and not restricted to the batsmen. Even for RCB, players like Shimron Hetmyer, Moeen Ali, and Shane Watson have been pawns in a game of musical chairs with batting positions. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, who excelled for years in tandem, were separated after a single bad outing against England in the 2019 World Cup and have barely played together since.
The talk surrounding Rishabh Pant
Both the selectors and Virat Kohli have been vocal about giving the young Rishabh Pant game time, a suggestion that is indeed very reasonable given that MS Dhoni turns 39 in a week. However, the manner in which this transition has been carried out has been appalling to say the least.
In Tests, Pant has lost his place to Wriddhiman Saha, who is undoubtedly better behind the stumps, but the thinking of the team management simply hasn't been consistent. Pant and Saha have been selected at random, like a coin toss with a prayer to the heavens that one of them manages to score some runs - a prayer that hasn't yet been answered.
In ODIs and T20Is, Pant has seen KL Rahul, who is not even a specialist keeper, don the gloves ahead of him. Where's the 'grooming Pant' theory now, Mr. Virat Kohli?
What's next for MS Dhoni?
MS Dhoni was last seen in action in India's heartbreaking loss to New Zealand in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup. His future is currently up in the air, although many of his CSK teammates have suggested that he is in excellent shape and in cracking form.
The uncertainty around his role that has contributed to his ouster from the national setup must be addressed immediately if he is to don the blue jersey for his country again.
Although Virat Kohli is not completely to blame, he has certainly played a big (if indirect) role in MS Dhoni's exclusion. There is no doubt that Virat Kohli is the right man to lead any team he is part of, but the Indian captain has to mend his broken ways immediately if he is to win any silverware.