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Has Mahendra Singh Dhoni become selectors’ nightmare?

In the recently concluded Asia Cup, Mahendra Singh Dhoni looked a pale shadow of his former self. His diehard fans somehow found him out of his depth. He was finding it difficult to play his natural shots against the likes of Afghanistan and Bangladesh. A batsman known for intimidating and decimating even the best bowling attack from anywhere in the world looked intimidated and clueless. In the ongoing India-West Indies one-day series, Dhoni has failed to get going in the first three one-dayers. In the third one-dayer, when skipper Kohli was waging a lone battle against the spunky and plucky Caribbean side, cricket fans pinned their hopes on the flamboyant Dhoni to steer his team to safety. After all, he is not the one to throw in the towel so easily in the face of adversity. But again our worst fear came true. He was dismissed for 7 runs and another opportunity to impress his coach and selectors went abegging.

End of T-20 career?

The decision of the national selectors to drop Dhoni from the T-20 series against the West Indies and against Australia next month is an indication that they are looking at other options. They feel that persisting with Dhoni in this format of the game can prove counterproductive and sooner they realize it the better off they will be. With young players like Rishab Pant having already cemented their place in the test team and one-dayers, the day is not far off when he would get to play T-20 on a regular basis. Dhoni’s age factor might also be one of the factors for the selectors to drop him from the side notwithstanding the fact that his wicket keeping remains as exemplary as ever. Sometimes, it is never easy making tough decisions in the interest of the team.

Where are his towering sixes and helicopter shots?

It seems that Dhoni’s bat has suddenly fallen silent and bowlers are happy to see a batsman like him taking the path of least resistance and returning to his default settings of passivity and unaggressive approach. For the last decade or so, whenever Dhoni has come out to bat, the spectators have whipped themselves into a frenzy expecting the best out of him, and on majority of occasions, he has delivered. Dhoni’s towering sixes and jaw-dropping helicopter shots, which turned a match on its head, are stuff of cricketing legend now. He could singlehandedly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by chasing down the target. But, alas, we don’t get to see such improvised shots from Dhoni anymore robbing us of the frisson of excitement that we experienced all these years.

The unforgettable World Cup victory in 2011 against the Sri Lankans is still best remembered for Dhoni’s batting pyrotechnics in the last few overs; how he finished off the match in style by thwacking the bowler for a mighty six and helping India regain the trophy after a hiatus of 28 years.

But in 2018, Dhoni has ceased to infuse terror in the bowlers. Any bowler who scalps his wicket doesn’t whoop with delight anymore the way he does in the case of a Kohli or a Rohit Sharma wicket. The very idea of Dhoni sans a potential nuisance value for the opponent doesn’t bode well for his future in one-day cricket.

Can Mahi make it to the World Cup squad next year?

MS Dhoni with a dipping batting average is not a good sign for Indian cricket. Now that he won’t get to play in the shorter version of the game against the Indies and, later against Australia, he has to play positive cricket against Australia in the one-dayers. As a wicketkeeper in one-dayers, Mahi is irreplaceable in terms of experience and competence. His quick reflexes behind the stumps still remain a clinching factor for him. The major challenge that stares Dhoni in the face now is to prove his indispensability in the team and for that he needs to fire on all cylinders and take the game to the opposition. Having been reduced to a busted flush, Dhoni has to transform himself into a run-machine in the one-dayers in Australia. His performance will matter in every match as he knows that the selectors’ take-no-prisoners approach to the selection criteria can make or break him.

Cricket lovers will still be loath to see their adorable MS Dhoni hanging up his boots and walking off into the sunset before next year’s World Cup.

Aditya Mukherjee

The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi

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