"There are players who changed their hairstyle more often than the runs they scored."
This particular outburst by a peeved Saurav Ganguly to a Bengali newspaper at the time of his retirement from international cricket in 2008 was believed to have been directed at erstwhile skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
At that time Ganguly believed that he could have played for another couple of years except that he chose to quit, claiming "how long can I put up with this humiliation (of being picked and dropped intermittently)? I don't want to play at the mercy of others."
Media reports of that period spoke of how skipper Dhoni, who was in the process of completely taking over captaincy from Anil Kumble, had confided to the cricket board that the ageing Ganguly, Kumble, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were slow movers in the team and needed to go. Apparently they had been sounded out that they would have to quit one after the other over the next year or so.
It is thus ironic that life has come a full circle in just a dozen years time and the boot is clearly on the other foot. Dhoni, although probably the best wicket-keeper in the country, is still being put out to pasture as his advancing years is now being held against him.
"You can still get into the central contract on a pro-rata basis if you get chosen to the Indian team," a very senior unnamed BCCI official is supposed to have told him before the contracts were finalised.
Dhoni at 38 years of age is way past his prime. But strangely his retirement issue has kept propping up every now and then. Four years ago, in 2016, after India lost the World T20 semi-finals to West Indies at Mumbai, he ridiculed an Australian journalist who sought to know when he would retire.
Dhoni told him that if it had been an Indian journalist asking the same question he would have asked him if the journalist had a brother or a son who wanted to take his wicket-keeping spot in the national team. That interaction certainly was in poor taste and Dhoni copped plenty of criticism for it.
The telling comment for the moment is that Dhoni does not find a place in BCCI's central contract featuring 27 players. At the time of writing it is unclear as to who exactly put together the list. Two of the selectors, MSK Prasad and Gagan Khoda have already completed their term but their spots have not been filled because the Cricket Advisory Committee which is to name the replacements is not yet in place.
It is possible that the BCCI president Ganguly would have decided that the team needed to move on from Dhoni and with coach Ravi Shastri, captain Virat Kohli and three remaining selectors, identifying the players for central contract.
The contract runs from October 2019 to September 2020. Therefore if Dhoni comes up with a stirring display in this year's IPL he could still be in contention for the T20 World Cup scheduled to be held from 18 October to 15 November, 2020 in Australia. Or even the Asia Cup T20 tournament before that.
But it is not going to be easy.
Knives were already being sharpened when Dhoni stayed away from playing for India after the World Cup 2019 match against New Zealand in July. Some former cricketers held that he would have lost his sharpness by not playing since then while some others stated that he should not be given the privilege to pick and choose matches.
Could the BCCI have shown some leniency for Dhoni? After all, how many cricketers, past and present, can claim to have led India to two World Cup title wins? Only Dhoni enjoys that matchless record. Add to it his roster of 350 ODIs, 90 Tests and 98 T20Is, you have someone who did India proud and served it with distinction for long.
Even otherwise, his replacement in the shortest form of the game, Rishabh Pant has not exactly covered himself with glory. Dhoni is still the better wicket-keeper and more valuable to the side in other aspects too. May be BCCI could have been a lot more sensitive to his case.
But then, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag, Kumble and others too did yeoman service for the country and would have felt the same way. Yet, when the time came to go they had to.
Nevertheless, central contract or otherwise, is the Dhoni story really over? Or is there still a twist in the tale to come? After all if the Indian team for the T20 World Cup should consist of the best players, can Dhoni not be in that mix?
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