Ravi Shastri caused a furore in the media on Tuesday when he said that Virat Kohli should lead India in all three formats. He was not alone. He echoed the thoughts of Sourav Ganguly, who had also backed Kohli to take over as limited overs skipper, last month. Their comments have raised the question, in the media at least, of the future of MS Dhoni, who will lead the Indian team in the ODI series in Zimbabwe this month.
Shastri, whose tenure as team director ended after the 2016 WT20, said, “"India will hardly play any one-day cricket in the next 18 months and the gaps between Tests and ODIs are massive. So, here's your time to look ahead and see what you can do with an Indian side, all round three years down the line.”
Shastri has a point. According to the ICC FTP, after the ODIs against Zimbabwe, India will not play limited overs cricket again till the end of October. In the interim, India are likely to play four tests in the West Indies, host a solitary test against Bangladesh, and then three tests against New Zealand. Virat Kohli will be in charge of Team India during this time. After the tests against New Zealand, there is likely to be a five match ODI series against the same opposition, in which Dhoni will make a reappearance after more than three and a half months.
Following that, India will only return to a coloured kit in January 2017, after hosting England for a test series. That is also likely to be the last limited overs tournament played before the ICC Champions Trophy in England.
It is easy to see why Shastri thinks that it is decision time. Had Dhoni had a successful IPL as captain of the Rising Pune Supergiants, such matters would probably not have come up at all. The fact that Kohli has been in sublime form this IPL, in fact this year, and has led his team to their third IPL final, have not made things easier for Dhoni either.
Shatri stressed that Dhoni could “still contribute massively as a player,” and that the only issue was the lack of limited overs cricket in the next few months. “Down the line if you think Dhoni is still the best captain, keep him as captain. But the issue here is the breaks and do you have a guy ready. So, my answer is you have a guy ready."
Known as a straight talker, Shastri may have put into words what some knowledgeable cricket fans have had in their minds for now. After Dhoni’s shock retirement from the longest format, India lost three ODI series under his captaincy. However, it must also be remembered that India reached the semi-finals of the World Cup and the WT20, with Dhoni at the helm.
What's been more worrying is Dhoni’s form with the bat. While he finished the IPL with an average of 40.57, the numbers belie the success that he had. Nonetheless, by selecting him to lead a young team to Zimbabwe, the selectors have made it clear that they are not looking any where else for other options as yet.
But should they? It depends whether they are planning for the Champions Trophy to be held in 2017 in England, or the World Cup in 2019. “You have to see where India is going to go in three years down the line,” said Shastri, making it clear that he felt Kohli should be given time to get accustomed to the limited overs captaincy to prepare specifically for the 2019 World Cup.
If that is the case, then there is no reason to jump the gun. While India are slated to play only a handful of ODI games prior to the Champions Trophy, they are likely to play 53 ODIs and 14 T20Is after that, leading up to the World Cup 2019, which will also be in England. Besides that, there is also likely to be a WT20, and an Asia Cup. These matches, over almost two years, form an ideal cushion for a new captain, if there is one, to snuggle in to the role.
MS Dhoni has had a rough year and a half to be sure. Successive series defeats to Bangladesh, South Africa and Australia were followed by a failure to defend the WT20 crown. However, his performance has not been so abysmal as to demolish faith in his abilities, and he clearly is still fit enough for the intensity of international cricket. He quit test cricket citing the “strain of playing all formats.” The open spaces on his calendar may just rejuvenate him, rather than retard him.
The future of Indian cricket is in no immediate danger; an heir is in waiting, and there is time and opportunity enough for adjustment. That being the case, there is little ground for replacing Dhoni as captain, just because Kohli is ‘ready’.
Dhoni should, form permitting, lead India into the Champions Trophy. By the time it ends, Dhoni will be 19 days short of his 36th birthday, and then this question of the new king can be raised again. Till then, long live the king.
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Updated Date: Jun 02, 2016 09:30:00 IST