As MSK Prasad put on their party masks and had a gala time announcing some path-breaking changes to the Indian T20I side on a Friday night, fans and media went into frenzy as one name – the first hero of Indian T20I cricket – appeared missing. MS Dhoni. The name which changed India’s mindset and approach to the format by rallying together a team of youngsters in South Africa eleven years ago and returning with the trophy, was unofficially dropped.
“He [Dhoni] is not going to play the six T20Is [West Indies and Australia] because we are looking at the second keeper’s slot. So I think we will retain Rishabh [Pant] and Dinesh Karthik. So they will be getting a chance to keep and bat. It is not the end of Dhoni in T20Is,” chief selector MSK Prasad had announced.
While he is officially “rested”, a term often used to ward off public hatred by selectors, a return to the game’s youngest format seems unlikely for Dhoni, whose prowess is distinctly and evidently on the wane in the past few years. Teams around the globe have been realising the need to keep T20s separate from ODIs and India are the latest to join the bandwagon with the team sporting a fairly new look with the addition of a few IPL stars.
Dhoni was no T20 flag-bearer in the country. His record in the format is average if you are really lenient. At 37, there might be no comeback for the man whose ODI place is under the microscope now. Even in the IPL, while leading the most successful franchise of all time, Dhoni hasn’t had a breathtaking record.
In 131 innings he batted for CSK, Dhoni has a conventional average of 41.97 combined with a strike rate of 140.71, which appears incredible. Cut out the not-outs and go for a runs/innings calculation and the average drops to 26.27.
For India, though, he has a mediocre record with 2 half-centuries in 80 innings but like with the former England skipper, Mike Brearley, who earned accolades for his captaincy alone, Dhoni’s value cannot be diminished to numbers. This isn’t to say he had to be persisted with. The kind of degradation he has undergone is unpardonable at the international level and he is perhaps lucky to be in the present day ODI side which could give the Australians of 2000 a run for their money.
With Dhoni gone and the T20I keeping duties resting upon Rishabh Pant or Dinesh Karthik, India’s T20I landscape is changing. One glance at the team picked for the series against Australia tells you where India hope to take their T20I team to by the time the World Cup arrives in 2020.
Virat Kohli (C), Rohit Sharma (vc), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Krunal Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed.
This is a baby step towards attaining T20I nirvana. India haven’t gone entirely into hippie-mode and have retained the crux of their ODI team. The batting is once again dependent on the top three with Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan (a debatable choice ahead of Rahul in this format of the game) and Virat Kohli virtually immovable at 1, 2 and 3.
The inclusion of Shreyas Iyer and Pant adds spice to the middle-order although it remains to be seen if India are prepared to see Karthik in a finisher role, one he successfully donned at Kolkata Knight Riders, rather than as a no 4. Pant could be the destructor-in-chief in the middle order with a license to kill if India are prepared to grant him that.
If Karthik and Pant can cover up for the Dhoni of old, a boot too big to fill for one, India will have one less worry but the idea of two keepers in a format that has increasingly inclined towards batsmen is a bit retro. Instead, it is likely to be a toss up between Karthik and Pant, with the latter being the front-runner.
Krunal Pandya is an interesting pick in this regard for he is a batsman capable of settling in at any position in the middle order.
Iyer – Pant – Krunal – Hardik is an exciting middle-order combination, one that would make the IPL proud, a path through which Indian T20I teams of the past haven’t opted to go down. With the World Cup two years away, the time is perhaps opportune for the team to take new shape and it isn’t really surprising to see Dhoni’s omission if you keep aside the gargantuan image cricket players have in the country.