Time is almost up for MS Dhoni. No one can dispute that his career has been incredibly successful, but his presence in India’s limited overs team should only be based on his current ability. A failure to rotate the strike against New Zealand and to fully finish games is a symptom that he is past his peak. To assume that Dhoni is waiting for the fanfare of the 2019 World Cup to announce his retirement is implausible, especially given the nature of his resignation from Test cricket. It hardly seems the type of egotistical move you would expect from arguably India’s greatest ever captain, who resigned from Test cricket quietly between series.
Is Rishabh Pant Really MS Dhoni’s Successor?
However, it does seem that his retirement is imminent. Phase one of this process was implemented earlier this year, when Dhoni handed over the ODI and T20 captaincy to Virat Kohli. Several sources, though, did report that he was asked to step down, but this has not been officially confirmed. Irrelevant of when Dhoni retires, he will leave behind a huge void in India’s middle order.
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The Elusive Number 4
Even as it is, India are having trouble finding a settled combination and in particular the number four spot still remains elusive. One youngster, however, has been dubbed as Dhoni’s successor. The 20 year old Rishabh Pant has been turning heads in Indian domestic cricket for several years and has already represented India in two T20s. In his prime, Dhoni was described as an explosive batsman and a ‘finisher’, traits which are augmented in Rishabh Pant’s batting. Pant’s first class strike rate of over 100 is simply obscene and yet he is still consistently prolific with an average close to 60.
So far, though, the Indian selectors have treated him horrendously, failing to find him a settled place in the Indian international setup. Pant has been inexplicably recalled and dropped throughout the year, being included for series against England and the West Indies, but failing to find a spot in the squad against Sri Lanka and most recently New Zealand. Furthermore, in the two opportunities he has had to play he has looked comfortable playing at an international level. A quick cameo in the final over against England and a measured 38 off 35 against the West Indies is not the worst way to start an international career. During the series he missed, Pant has had mixed domestic success, with his omission from India’s squad seemingly have dented his confidence.
A similar story can be found by looking at the career of fellow Delhi Daredevils star Sanju Samson. Once also billed as being the future replacement of Dhoni, the left-handed batsman has found himself entirely out of India’s international plans after being handled poorly by the Indian selectors as well. After dominant performances in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the IPL, Samson earned a call-up to the India A squad and from there was picked in India’s international squad for their limited overs tour of England. Samson was not picked in any of the five ODIs in England, nor was he selected in the only T20. Most infuriating was the fact that he was not selected in India’s starting XI in any of their three ODIs in Zimbabwe. India regularly tour Zimbabwe for limited overs matches, to try out their younger players who have impressed in the IPL. However, Robin Uthappa, then 29, was India’s first choice keeper and he failed in all three games denying Samson an opportunity. A similar story could be found in India’s T20s against Zimbabwe, where Samson was only included for the final match of the tour. Since this tour to Zimbabwe, Samson has not featured again for India and has been overlooked by India repeatedly despite not even having an opportunity to prove himself.
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There are a worrying number of parallels between the careers of these two players. If the Indian selectors are not careful, Rishabh Pant could easily become the next Sanju Samson, a promising young talent who never had the opportunity to establish themselves in international cricket.
For a side that is meant to have a strong rotation policy, there still seems to be a stubbornness that Dhoni must always keep wicket. If Pant really is meant to succeed Dhoni, the Indian selectors have done an exceptionally good job of hiding it. This fundamental short-sightedness will only be detrimental to India in the long-term and has further been inculcated by India’s selection of Dinesh Karthik as their backup keeper. Karthik actually made his ODI debut before Dhoni and is just a few years his junior. Due to the prominence of Dhoni, Karthik has had a very inconsistent international career, failing to have a long, uninterrupted stint in the Indian limited overs side. There is no plausible way in which Karthik can be seen as a viable answer to this conundrum, although his experience would be beneficial.
In terms of other options available for India, there seems to be no middle ground between the youth of Pant and the age and experience of wicket-keepers like Karthik and Wriddhiman Saha. It is imperative than Pant is given more opportunities, perhaps in India’s upcoming series against Sri Lanka which is set to be a rather one-sided affair. If India continue to overlook the necessity of including a young keeper, then India will find themselves struggling to maintain a strong middle order in the aftermath of Dhoni’s retirement.
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