Everyone knows MS Dhoni is hanging around for a fairy tale finish to his career at the 2019 World Cup. In a career full of highlights, Dhoni’s greatest moment remains the six over long on off Kulasekara to seal the 2011 World Cup triumph and he wants to do it all over again, but is he now good enough to do it again on the biggest stage?
Dhoni’s batting form has been sliding for the past three years and the slump was in evidence again during the recently concluded Asia Cup. In 2016, Dhoni averaged 27.80 at a strike rate of 80.11, far below his career numbers of 50.61 and 87.85 (it was above 90 before 2016). In 2017, the average did go up to 68 thanks to a good series in Sri Lanka where he remained unbeaten throughout, but the strike rate of 84 was still below his usual best.
2018 has been the worst of the lot though, he is averaging only 28.12 at a strike rate of 67.36 and has frequently struggled to get going in the middle. His form during the IPL suggested a return of the vintage Dhoni but it proved to be a false dawn, as seen in England and Dubai.
He is still an incredibly fit athlete and his performance behind the stumps is as good as ever, but in an already fragile middle order, Dhoni’s loss of form is creating a big headache for India. If the Top 3 has an off day, India can no longer rely on a rescue act from a man who used to perform them regularly during his hay days.
Dhoni always took some time to settle in before delivering the big hits later on but these days, the settling in period is growing longer and longer, and there haven’t been enough big hits later on to make up for the balls consumed.
If the selectors do show the bravery to drop him, who can fill his sizeable boots is the big question. Dinesh Karthik has been around longer than Dhoni but has failed to nail down a spot in the middle order. He had a great opportunity in Dubai to push his case for the World Cup, but failed to see his side home in the two games where middle order was needed to score.
Rishabh Pant has already impressed with his batting in Test Cricket, but his keeping skills leave a lot to be desired. He wasn’t helped by some wayward bowling but the number of byes he conceded in England will be at the back of selectors’ mind. Add the catches he dropped of Buttler, someone who can turn an ODI around in half a dozen overs if you give him that chance.
There is also a case for KL Rahul to keep wickets and India playing another batsman, similar to what was done in 2003 World Cup but Rahul’s own performances with the bat in 50 overs cricket (albeit in few opportunities) haven’t been that impressive.
There are also some impressive keeper-batsmen in domestic cricket, KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson to name a few but the World Cup may come too soon for some of these guys.
MS Dhoni does bring with him tonnes of experience and cricket knowledge which the other options don’t, he still remains one of the cleverest minds in world cricket, but if we are taking him to England for that alone, then he can provide that from the side-lines, as a mentor or whatever fancy designation BCCI can think of.
Indian players have often hung around a bit longer than they should have in search for personal milestones, Kapil Dev played a couple more years than he should have as he waited to overhaul Hadlee, Tendulkar hung around for the last couple of years to get his 100th 100, and now Dhoni is staying longer than he should as he waits for the 2019 World Cup.
In this case, will the selectors be bold enough to drop him and get someone younger and a bit more dynamic in the side? The Australian tour will let us know as any replacement has to start featuring in the XI by then to get some experience under the belt ahead of the big event in England.