Should MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh be part of future plans of Indian cricket? It’s a tough call to make, but it’s time the Indian skipper Virat Kohli applied his mind to it with the seriousness it deserves. Both have been great players alright but greatness alone should not make them automatic choices for a place in any team for the future. With the next World Cup only two years away and the composition of the team for the big event to be settled soon, Kohli has to make a decision.
Dhoni as the captain of the team grappled with the same question in 2008 before a tri-series in Australia, and is believed to have had a role in the exclusion of greats Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid from the team. With agility on the field his focus, he made a bold gamble, choosing the young over the veterans. It worked. Had he failed to win the series he would have invited severe criticism back home, but as leader he had to follow his instinct. Now, Kohli has to do something similar and risk being unpopular.
It’s sad that one has to suggest that both players have to be dropped. But as it happens often, great players cannot decide themselves when to call it quits. For example, Kapil Dev went on and on without realising that he was a spent force. Sachin Tendulkar may have extended his career by two unnecessary years. Imagine someone like him being asked by selectors about his future plans in 2012. Yuvraj and Dhoni may still be performing decently in their respective roles, one as a batsman and part-time bowler and the other as wicket-keeper and batsman, but clearly missing is the spark of the earlier days.
At some point in a player’s life fatigue sets in. The performance of both beginning with the Champion’s Trophy reveals that the class may still be intact, but missing is the energy. When Dhoni takes 114 balls to score 54 runs and still does not help the team manage a victory, it is certainly very unlike him. And this was not the first occasion he – one of the greatest finishers of the game - failed to ensure a victory after hanging around for long in recent times. The once imperious Yuvraj - remember his knocks between 2000 and 2007 and his six sixes off Stuart Board’s bowling in 2007? – appears drained these days. He definitely does not look as a player who should get a long rope.
Dhoni’s wicket-keeping is still his big plus but it is his unique ability to change gears while batting in response to the situation of the game that earned him quite a reputation. That ability is on the wane now. He always produced magic in the concluding overs to win games; now he is stretching all games to the end, not often with the expected result. At the wrong side of 30, he seems to be overstretching his career. Kohli will need to decide whether Dhoni has the same utility for the team as earlier.
With an enviable assembly line of young and competent players jostling for space in the team, he is spoilt for choices. But Kohli will have to figure out which combination of players works best for him. This has to follow the strategy to be pursued for the 2019 World Cup. The next stage is preparation and getting the team to work as a unit some length of time. He has to get to the drawing board fast. It would be easier when he decides whom he does not need in the team first. If he starts with Dhoni and Yuvraj, not many would mind. The two must think of a dignified retirement now.