MUMBAI: Usually, tours to Zimbabwe and Kenya are seen as exposure trips for the India team. For MS Dhoni though, there’s been a special connect since his visit in 2004 with the India A team. Like most players in that squad, he was trying to break into the senior team.
Playing in Africa proved to be auspicious and hastened his promotion to the main team. Incidentally, the current selection committee chairman, Sandeep Patil, was the coach.
In 10 days, he embarks on another tour to the southern African nation, and Ravi Shastri’s statement on time being right for Virat Kohli to take over the reins of the team in all three formats of the game means the senior-most player in the squad, skipper Dhoni, will be playing to save his career.
TIMING OF REMARKS
It is unlikely that Shastri, the India team director for the last 18 months, would have made this statement if he didn’t think Dhoni would have stepped down on his own after the World Twenty20 in March.
What has stirred the pot is that the Indian cricket Board is in the process of deciding on the new coach, and there are reports that Shastri is a strong favourite.
If he indeed decides to throw his hat in the ring, and gets the job, this statement against Dhoni will become a kind of ultimatum. For, it will be an impossible situation if Dhoni continues as captain and Shastri is the coach.
EQUATION WITH KOHLI
Dhoni’s supporters point to Shastri’s equation with Kohli, who is emerging as the most powerful figure in the Indian cricket team. Being the Test captain, Kohli may have a say on who will be the next coach, although former BCCI president Shashank Manohar was of the view that players should not be left to decide on the coach, and hence the process of selection. Things, though, may change with the change of guard in the BCCI.
As comparisons are made between Dhoni with Kohli, the pressure on the former is growing. He is close to the end of his playing career, and the IPL results have increased calls for his quitting, although Dhoni himself has made light of that question.
Sourav Ganguly, the former India captain and a strong voice in Board, had also stated that the captaincy should be decided on the basis of who will lead India at the 2019 World Cup.
TOO MUCH BURDEN
On the other hand, experts like Wasim Akram have warned against putting too much responsibility on Kohli by asking him to lead in all forms of the game and also don the role of the main batsman. It’s a genuine concern as many batsmen saddled with extra responsibility have gradually wilted. It happened to even the likes of Rahul Dravid and Ganguly.
Also, Dhoni’s record for India has been decent. At the last two big events, the 50-over World Cup in 2015 and the World Twenty20, India were semifinalists.
What Sandeep Patil and his fellow selectors will have to weigh though is whether Dhoni can be a force three years from now. His batting form has been patchy.
Either way, it will be a massive call. To their advantage, the BCCI and the selectors have time. After Zimbabwe, there is a long break from limited-overs cricket. Africa gives him another chance, not just as a captain, but as a batsman as well.