As the Indian selectors set their sights on building a core group of cricketers as part of the team’s preparations for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the ‘men in blue’ have begun solving the riddle of the middle order. A few experiments have been undertaken. A pool of players including KL Rahul is being rotated, and some of them are being assigned specialised roles.
Skipper Virat Kohli has even told cricket pundits around the world to expect an array of changes in the days to come – as the team plans to chart a roadmap for the marquee event. The 28-year-old also made it clear that these experiments would continue as the team plans to give ample time and opportunity to a group of players, including wicket-keeper batsman MS Dhoni, to show their consistency.
Of late, former skipper MS Dhoni’s role in the team has come under the spotlight as the 36-year-old’s finishing abilities seem to be ebbing. But, his heroics in the recently concluded one-day international (ODI) series against the Sri Lankans ended up silencing the critics. Dhoni played a crucial role throughout the series – stitching up as many as three vital century-partnerships in the series.
His innings in the second ODI (45 not out) at Pallekele in Kandy garnered praise. The Indians had been left tottering (at 131 for 7) after Akila Dhananjaya ran through the Indian batting-order to register his first-ever five wicket haul in ODI cricket (ending with figures of six wickets for 54 runs in 10 overs). However, Dhoni teamed up with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar to steer his side out of precarious waters, and his calm head ensured that India won the match. While a strike rate hovering in the mid 60s was certainly not enough to showcase the hard work the veteran had done, the situation was such that it required preserving his wicket over everything else.
In the very next game, Dhoni again came out to bat when the Indians had been reduced to 61 for 4 while chasing a modest total of 218. Along with Rohit Sharma, the pair took the side over the line. This time, Dhoni scored a breezy 67 not out. Looking at these instances, it certainly won’t be wrong to state that Dhoni’s role in the series was that of a moderator. More importantly, these knocks came at times when Indians needed damage control quite desperately.
In the fourth ODI, he came out all guns blazing and scored a quick-fire 49 not out, as the Indians kept piling on the misery over a beleaguered Sri Lankan side. Dhoni’s fireworks took the Indians to a hefty total (375 for 5).
In his attempt to remain in the core group which the Indian team seeks to develop, Dhoni has emphasised significantly on strike rotation. This, despite a few cricket pundits questioning his ability to rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard moving.
With an array of youngsters such as Axar Patel, Hardik Pandya and Yuzvendra Chahal making it to the squad for the upcoming ODI series against the Aussies, the veteran’s role will involve inspiring the youngsters to come out and play their natural game. Ravi Shastri, the head coach, also reiterated that Dhoni remains the best wicket-keeper in the country. He further dispelled doubts about Dhoni’s future by stating that he is not even ‘half finished‘ and has a massive influence on the team.
With the preparations for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup underway, the chief of the selection panel MSK Prasad has made it very clear that no one, not even a player of the stature of MS Dhoni, is indispensable. Form and fitness have taken the front seat as the Indians gear up to prepare a core group comprising 18-20 cricketers for the mega event. The question that still lurks is: can Dhoni do what Gigi Buffon did at 36 while playing for Juventus? We’ll have to wait and see.
A version of this post was first published on the author’s blog.