It’s no more than a storm in a teacup

The Asian Age.  | Ayaz Memon

Sports, Cricket

A minimum level of participation (in number of matches) is pertinent criteria for getting a contract.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Photo:AFP)

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s omission from the central contracts announced by the BCCI last week had Indian cricket fans divided and the media world agog.

There was furious speculation whether this was the BCCI’s way of nudging Dhoni towards retirement. If so, Dhoni’s diehard fans saw it as disrespectful to a magnificent cricketer who has brought rich laurels to the country.

I see the episode as no more than a storm in a teacup. True, a central contract suggests that the player who has received one is on the radar or shortlist of the selectors for inclusion in the national team. But there is a protocol for this, which Dhoni did not fit into.

Fundamental to being considered for a central contract is that the player should be active in domestic cricket at least. Dhoni has not stepped on to a cricket field since the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in July last year.

A minimum level of participation (in number of matches) is pertinent criteria for getting a contract. There could be a case when a player has been missing for months because of injury — like Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya — but those are exceptions to the rule.

If I remember correctly, the protocol was discussed and ratified by a group of senior players that included Dhoni when they discussed raising the value of contracts in different categories with the BCCI a few years back.

Apart from being commonsensical, the protocol is important as well to prevent misuse of the system. If a central contract had to be doled out on reputation alone, without fulfilling other requisites, it would be unfair and could also invite recrimination within the fraternity.

My surmise is that the omission wasn’t sprung on Dhoni. He would have known from experience, as captain and then senior pro, how a central contract is decided. Indeed, he may well have been kept in the loop by the BCCI and in fact insisted on not being made an exception!

The flip side to the situation is no less interesting. A central contract does not guarantee a place in a squad for a series or tour. It just means, as mentioned at the start, that the player is shortlisted.

However, the absence of a central contract in itself is not a negation of eligibility. A youngster of great potential could leapfrog into the national team without a central contract, so could a veteran who has lost his place in the side, and the contract, but has come roaring back in form.

Since Dhoni hasn’t retired, he is technically still in contention for a place in the Indian team. Obviously, if he desires this, he has to play enough number of matches to prove that he can sustain fitness and form over a period of time.

Dhoni will be playing the IPL. He has also started training with the Jharkand team recently, so could also play other domestic matches too. This should give him as well as selectors and team management an idea of how good he could be for international cricket still.

Dhoni’s replacement in the Indian team, Rishabh Pant, hasn’t quite been able to cement his place. Chief coach Ravi Shastri, aware of this shortcoming in the team for the World T20 later this year, has spoken of how Dhoni’s experience could be vital if he meets all other criteria.

This leaves the door ajar for him. But after last week’s matches against Australia, it’s by no means a Pant or Dhoni choice any longer. KL Rahul has come into serious contention as batsman-wicketkeeper with his rousing knocks and impressive glovework when Pant got injured.

It might be recalled that Rahul Dravid had played in this capacity in ODIs (71 matches, no less!) before Dhoni arrived on the scene in 2004. If KL Rahul has the wherewithal to cope with this dual responsibility, the arguments and dynamics for selection to the T20 World Cup could see major shift.

The suspense grows!