At 36, Mahindra Singh Dhoni stands at ‘Corridor of Uncertainty’ in Team India
Age is just a number if the going is good. But if it’s not the case, then the number 36 whether age or the waistline can always lead to some amount of self doubts.
On his 36th birthday, Mahendra Singh Dhoni finds himself standing at crossroads of an illustrious career — just four matches short of a mammoth 300 ODI games. One of the best finishers of the game, played perhaps the most horrendous knock of his 13-year-ODI career 54 off 114 balls in an unsuccessful 190-run chase against an under- strength West Indies.
His worst effort, ironically, came at a venue that is named after one of the greatest the game has ever seen – Sir Vivian Richards. Dhoni’s knock at North Sound obviously begs a few questions.
Some of the answers are available with common cricket loving public but the most important answer is only available with the man himself. Can he win matches for India at the 2019 World Cup when he will be 38 only Dhoni knows.
Are his finishing powers on the wane They certainly seem to be going by his recent struggles. Is he still the best wicketkeeper and one of the fittest in the team An emphatic yes.
It’s a tricky situation for one of India’s limited overs legends. He will win matches here and there, will be brilliant behind the stumps with flash reflexes but will that be enough to convince Virat Kohli to give another 45 matches before the team again boards the flight to the United Kingdom.
What works in favour of Dhoni is India’s phenomenally strong batting line-up. With Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan at the top with back-ups like KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane at the top of the order, Dhoni actually will not be required on most of the days.
And then to provide swagger towards the end, Hardik Pandya has arrived with ability to hit sixes at will. Therefore, perhaps Dhoni will be required occasionally to guide the team.
And therein lies the problem. The No 5 or 6 is a very important slot which would not always give him enough time to settle down. Hitting sixes from the word ‘go’ has never been his game during all these years.
But as Ajay Jadeja had rightly pointed out during one of his commentary stints : “It’s not the sixes that is the problem but not getting those singles regularly that’s putting the pressure.”
Rahul Dravid has called upon the selectors to have a clear cut policy on Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh and he is not off the mark. Just like the Champions Trophy final, it will be those odd days when his oodles of experience is something that Kohli would like to bank on.
And since he will only be required sporadically, the failures will be magnified even more as the next chance to become team’s ‘Man Friday’ may not come too soon. The helicopter may come off one day but some of the other days, it will go down the long-on’s throat. But on days when it comes off, he is the resident champion.
It’s not that players have not reinvented themselves after their 36th birthdays. Sachin Tendulkar played some of his best cricket between 2009-11 in both Tests and ODIs.
Without doubt Tendulkar was a batting genius with a lot more quality in his armoury but Dhoni possesses the most important aspect of a top level sportsperson – steely temperament.
Rishabh Pant — another rare talent from the Indian cricket stable — is breathing down his neck. But Rishabh is far from being a finished product even though he will inherit Dhoni’s big gloves.
One does not know how long he will play. Dhoni doesn’t care for records. He quit Test cricket when 100 Tests required just 10 more games. He quit limited overs captaincy with one game required for him to have captained India in 200 ODIs.
The lethal delivery called ‘Retirement’ has just been pitched on top of off-stump and it’s luring the man. Will he be able to deal with a delivery that has been pitched on the ‘Corridor of Uncertainty’ The jury is still out.