As the Indian selectors set their sights on building a core group of cricketers as part of the team’s preparations for the 2019 edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the men in blue have begun solving ‘The Riddle of the Middle Order’. A few experiments have been undertaken, a pool of players including KL Rahul is being rotated, and some of them are being assigned specialized roles. Indian skipper Virat Kohli too, told the cricket pundits across the globe to expect an array of changes in the days to come as the team plans to chart-out a roadmap for the marquee event.
The 28-year-old also made it clear that these experiments would continue as the team plans to give ample time and opportunity to a group of players, including wicket-keeper batsman MS Dhoni, to showcase consistency.
Of late, former skipper MS Dhoni’s role in the team has come under the spotlight as the 36-year-old’s finishing abilities seem to be ebbing. But, the 36-year-old’s heroics in the recently concluded One-Day-International (ODI) series against the Sri Lankans ended-up silencing the critics. MS Dhoni played a crucial role throughout the series. MS Dhoni stitched as many as three vital century partnerships in the series.
His innings in the second ODI (45 not out) at Pallekele in Kandy garnered praise after the Indians were left tottering at 131 for 7 by Akila Dhananjaya, who ran through the Indian batting-order to register his first-ever 5 wicket haul in ODI cricket (6 wickets for 54 runs in 10 overs). Dhoni teamed-up with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar to steer his side out of precarious waters. Dhoni’s calm head ensured an unlikely victory for the men in blue. While a strike rate hovering in the mid 60’s was certainly not enough to showcase the hard work the veteran had done, the situation was such that it required wicket preservation over everything else.
In the very next game, Dhoni again came out to bat when the Indians were reduced to 61 for 4 while chasing a modest total of 218. Dhoni teamed-up with Rohit Sharma as the pair took the side over the line. Dhoni scored a breezy 67 not out this time around. Citing these instances, it certainly won’t be wrong to state that Dhoni’s role in the series was that of a moderator. He scored 45 not out and 67 not out in the second and the third ODI respectively after the Indians needed damage control quite desperately.
In the fourth ODI, he came out all guns blazing and scored a quick-fire 49 not out as the Indians kept piling on the misery over a beleaguered Sri Lankan side. Some late fireworks from Dhoni took the Indians to a hefty total (375 for 5).
In his attempt to remain in the core group the Indian team seeks to develop, Dhoni has emphasised significantly on strike rotation. A few cricket pundits had questioned the veteran’s ability to rotate the strike in order to keep the scoreboard moving.
With an array of youngsters such as Axar Patel, Hardik Pandya, and Yuzvendra Chahal making it to the squad for the upcoming ODI series against the Aussies, the veteran’s role would involve inspiring the youngsters to come out and play their natural game. Ravi Shastri, the national side’s head coach, also reiterated that Dhoni is the best wicket-keeper the country has ever seen. He further dispelled doubts about MS Dhoni’s future by stating that Dhoni is not even “half finished” and has a massive influence on the team.
With the preparations for the 2019 edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup underway already, the chief of selection panel MSK Prasad has made it very clear that no one, not even a player of the stature of MS Dhoni is indispensable. Form and fitness have taken the front seat as the Indians gear-up to prepare a core group comprising 18-20 cricketers for the mega event. The question that lurks out there is: Can MS Dhoni do what Gigi Buffon did at 36 while playing for Juventus? We’ll have to wait and see.