Is this payback time or what? Three senior players whom former India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had wanted out of the national team owing to their sluggishness in the field are leading the chorus for Dhoni’s expulsion from the Indian T20 squad.
Their logic is that his batting has slowed down and he is not hitting with venom, like in the past. Hence, he has to be axed! As example, they finger-point at the Rajkot T20I against New Zealand which India lost by 40 runs. They claim that Dhoni’s 37-ball innings of 49 had only three sixes and two fours and too many dot balls in between and hence he has to go!
In truth, Dhoni was only one of two Indian batsmen to make a decent score in that match, the other being skipper Virat Kohli. But when the agenda is obvious, why bother about facts? Just cherry pick an innings in a loss, embellish it with bells and whistles and mould it into the narrative that best fits the agenda.
The issue is not about Dhoni’s fitness or fleet-footedness; he, in any case, is fitter than most players in the current squad. Why, just a couple of days back he beat young Axar Patel hands down in a mock sprint race. But these former senior players are not concerned about ground reality. They hope they could create a groundswell against him, never mind that Dhoni, the player still has plenty to offer Indian cricket.
The grapevine has it that under skipper Dhoni one particular senior was told that he had to quit after two matches as the team could not afford a slow-coach. His query ‘what if I get a century?’ was met with ‘it’s not your batting that’s the issue. You are too slow in the field and in running between wickets.’
Another was kept out for much the same reason as it was felt his presence was turning out to be counter-productive. His running between wickets was ponderous and his work in the outfield shoddy. The third player had slowed down and did not fit in the larger scheme of things, especially when looking ahead.
Subsequent events proved Dhoni and the selectors right.
In the current scenario it is an accepted fact that Dhoni is India’s best wicketkeeper by a long margin. While Wriddhiman Saha has developed into a very good gloveman in Tests, he is not in the Dhoni class in batting, cricketing acumen or fitness. For that matter, no current wicketkeeper-cum-batsman in India is a patch on Dhoni.
The former skipper recently played three T20I innings against the Kiwis: 7 not out, 49 and 0 not out. In the third innings he did not even face a single ball but for those out on a witch hunt that was good enough!
In the two T20I matches against Australia, he did not bat in the first. In the second match he scored 13 in a team total of 118. So in reality he was not the big slouch he is being made out to be.
True, Dhoni is 36 years of age. But a Dhoni at 36 is vastly different from a Yuvraj Singh or VVS Laxman or Saurav Ganguly at 36. He is fitter and stronger at this age than they perhaps were at any time in their career.
It would be prudent to point out that modern fitness training methods, diet, incentives and awareness are such that a motivated, focused cricketer like Dhoni could prolong his career by another two to three years if need be.
Importantly, Dhoni is a pillar of strength for Kohli who, like Dhoni before him, seems obsessed with a performance-based team. Playing Ashish Nehra in the Delhi T20I might be an aberration. Otherwise Kohli has shown that he is ruthless with non-performers. He would not bat for Dhoni unless he believed that the former skipper had plenty to offer.
In fact, Dhoni’s value to the team is not as player alone. His tactical acumen, which Kohli referred to in his defence of his key player, serves the team very well. He is at the forefront of devising strategies and plotting the downfall of opponents. Additionally, when Kohli fields in the deep it is Dhoni who tweaks field placings and instructs bowlers. Kohli leaves these things to the senior pro only because he has enormous trust and faith in him.
Thus, all things considered, it would be better if some of these former players took a break from nitpicking. Instead they could give back to the game by going to remote parts of their home state to do some talent scouting and mentoring rather than making a nuisance of themselves.
Of course, Dhoni will have to call it quits sometime or the other. But that time is not now. Hope the frustrated lot gets to appreciate that.