MS Dhoni Is the Current Star, Rishabh Pant the Future
An ODI average of 25.00 in 2018 and the critics were all over MS Dhoni as expected. In a surprise move, he was dropped for the first time from the T20I side in his playing career; a move which MSK Prasad dubbed as rest and an opportunity to look at India's second keeper.
To be fair to Dhoni, when a team has such world-class top three batsmen, it actually becomes a tough task for the middle order. Opportunities to spend time in the middle are far and few. And when you come in to bat early at times, following a rare Indian top-order collapse, it is more about rebuilding, than going hammer and tongs. Hence, the strike rate takes a beating.
Also, when you come in to bat with just a few overs to spare, you have to put your foot on the accelerator right away. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, the average suffers.
Pant Thrown Into The Mix
What heated up the Dhoni debate further was that Rishabh Pant was thrown into the ODI mix during the West Indies series as a pure batsman, while Dhoni kept donning the gloves. This was a clear strategy shift as India had been looking at Dinesh Karthik as their second choice keeper until then. But suddenly, Karthik was dropped from the ODI squad and Pant got a look in.
In the three ODI innings that Pant batted against the Windies on Indian soil, the talented batsman threw his wicket away each time. The case is pretty much the same since, in the nine T20I innings that the Delhi keeper-batsman has played. Considering the little time remaining for the World Cup, the selectors reverted to Dinesh Karthik as their second choice keeper in the ODIs against Australia. Karthik played as a pure batsman at No 6 and proved his worth with an underrated knock of 25 from just 14 balls at Adelaide.
Starting 2019 With a Bang
Coming into the Australia ODI series, pundits expressed their worry about MS Dhoni for not playing any competitive cricket for more than two months. Indeed, he looked a bit scratchy in the first ODI despite notching up a half-century. The veteran keeper scored at a strike rate of around 50 and copped some flak for his slow batting. Now, the proposition that whether the situation of the game demanded it or Dhoni needed some match-practice or both is debatable. Kohli put it best at the post-match press conference.
“I thought Rohit was outstanding and MS supported him but I thought we could have done better with the tempo of the game and we fell short.”
MSD might not be the same player that he was 10 years ago, he may be a little slow to get off the blocks or may be a bit scratchy at times but make no mistake, he can still win matches for India. His unbeaten half-century at Adelaide followed up by another match-winning knock of 87* at Melbourne, should put an end to the speculations with regard to his spot in the Indian team leading up to the World Cup.
A Great Value Addition
Dhoni is a lot more than a regular keeper-batsman. He is an on-field mentor, a stand-in captain when Virat Kohli is in the outfield, a guiding light for the bowlers (particularly spinners) and a champion at the Decision Review System. Despite all these facets, it is his batting alone that makes him an automatic pick. With more than 10,000 ODI runs and an average of over 50, that too when he has batted most of his career at number 5 or 6, Dhoni walks into the playing XI on merit.
India's top three in Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli are among the best batsmen in the world and would see the team through six to seven times out of ten in the World Cup but even the best in the business fail on some days. The remaining three-four times is when the role of Dhoni becomes critical.
Cherishing The New Role
Things change with time and so has Dhoni's role in the team. Like we have Cheteshwar Pujara in the Test team who allows the other batsmen to play their natural game and rally around him, in the same way, MS Dhoni serves the purpose of steadying the ship in the middle overs and brings a sense of calm so that the Rohits and the Virats can play counter-attacking cricket. And don't be fooled, he too can clear the boundary if and when required.
Captain Cool won the 2011 World Cup for India with a towering six. By ending the Australian ODI series as India’s highest run-getter and registering a mind-boggling average of 193.00, the former skipper has shown that he might not be hitting them as long but he still possesses the tactical prowess to carry the team over the line when need be.
As for Pant, he might just have to wait for another four years to don the blue jersey in a World Cup, but rest assured, he’ll get there.
(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 the same.)
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