He has mostly led a formidable bunch of limited-overs specialists but it will be a different sort of challenge for Mahendra Singh Dhoni when he captains a new-look Indian cricket team against Zimbabwe in the first ODI of a three-match series in Harare on Saturday.
Over the years, the series in Zimbabwe has always featured limited-overs matches played post the IPL, where the BCCI sends its second-string outfits to test the bench strength.
The second string outfits have, in fact, effected back-to-back whitewashes 5-0 and 3-0 in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
It was supposed to be no different this time around as well. The squad of 15 comprises as many as five uncapped players (including KL Rahul, who is yet to make his limited-overs debut) but it has gained special significance because of Dhoni, who will be playing in the African nation after 11 long years.
The last time Dhoni played in Zimbabwe in 2005, his international career was barely six months old and Sourav Ganguly was still in charge of the ‘Men In Blue’.
But now the situation is different post his retirement from Test cricket and Virat Kohli’s Bradmanesque form in the past six months leading to calls of his removal from captaincy.
While he may not be battling to save his captaincy yet, tours like the one about to start in Zimbabwe are the proverbial ‘banana peel’ for any top cricketer.
A series win will never be feted as it is something that everyone expects to be accomplished but at the same time any unexpected result will send the kind of shock waves that the Jharkhand dasher just would not fancy at the moment.
With India having a Test-heavy home schedule this year with a few ODIs and T20s against New Zealand and England, this is Dhoni’s last chance to be in the mix as he won’t be playing a lot in the next few months. India will be embarking on a Test tour of the Caribbean after this assignment.
If one has a look at the team, the gulf between Dhoni and the rest of the squad stands out. While Dhoni has played a total of 275 ODIs, the rest of the squad cumulatively has 83 matches to their credit.
If one were to take away Ambati Rayudu (31 matches) and Axar Patel (22)’s participation, the seven others have a total of 30 matches to their names.
More so, save for KL Rahul, none of the other youngsters in this team will be boarding the flight to West Indies for the Test series.