Dubai: Common wisdom tells you that the 2019 ICC World Cup will be the last hurrah for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Indian cricket’s most decorated captain.
The absence of a clear replacement for the two-time World Cup winner, his role as a mentor and calming force for skipper Virat Kohli, made the 37-year-old a go-to person for the Indian team management — at least till the end of October.
It’s been a long cherished dream of Dhoni — since he gave up the captaincy in white ball cricket — to play in the World Cup next year.
The doubts began to surface once ‘MSD’ was dropped from Twenty20 squads for the series against West Indies at home as well as Australia — this being the first occasion when he has been actually sidelined for any series in a glittering career. Speculations have again begun swirling about Dhoni’s next move, with a national English daily even reporting that Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir may throw their hat in the political arena and contest in next year’s Parliamentary elections for BJP ahead of the World Cup.
However, sources close to the cricketer insist Dhoni is ready to take the challenge for one last time and is in no mood to throw in the towel. “It’s been a long cherished dream of Dhoni — since he gave up the captaincy in white ball cricket — to play in the World Cup next year where he would be more as a mentor to the team. His idea was to give Kohli time to develop in this role and there is still no change in his thinking,” Arun Pandey, his longtime friend and manager, confided to Gulf News.
Pandey, whose Rhiti Sports had been managing the portfolio of the iconic cricketer ever since he was elevated to the captain’s role, steadfastly denied that Dhoni has any political ambitions — at least for now. “It’s completely a conjecture,” he said, even though Dhoni’s penchant to throw a surprise — and the dispassionate nature of not showing a sense of occasion — has often caught even his teammates, not to speak of the media, on the wrong foot.
It was in the middle of an ongoing Test series against Australia in 2014, with the final Test still to go, that Dhoni had stepped down from his Test captaincy. Two years down the line, in the middle of a clamour for giving Kohli the captain’s mantle on all formats, Dhoni stepped down without a fuss in end-2016 — sparking off the rumour mill if the end of one of the most extraordinary careers in Indian cricket was near.
However, he dispelled any such doubts soon thereafter — posting a number of his workout pictures in the gym in social media — that he was in it for the long haul. It’s been nearly two years since then that Dhoni has kept himself in the pole position despite the likes of Dinesh Karthik peering over his shoulders or the young Risabh Pant, already drafted in Tests, continuing to impress with his ability to force the pace in batting in recent times.
The biggest irony in Dhoni’s case now is that the man, whose legendary prowess as a finisher once held the cricketing world in awe, is clearly looking out of depth with his batting form over a period of time. “He’s (Dhoni) still a very integral part of this team and he just feels that in the T20 format, someone like Rishabh can get more chances,” Kohli clarified recently when asked about Dhoni’s omission from the T20I series against West Indies and Australia.
The danger, however, lies elsewhere. Dhoni’s absence from the T20 format leaves him woefully short of match practice as he is now left with only the 50-overs format. It’s also common knowledge that he had spurned the national selection committee chairman’s request to play in Vijay Hazare Trophy quarter finals for Jharkhand — the veteran’s contention being he did not want to gatecrash at the knockout stage and disturb the team balance.
The Dhoni conundrum, hence, will continue to dog the Indian team in the run-up to the World Cup in the coming months ...