There is an undeniable romance to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s career.
There is an undeniable romance to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s career. Coming from the boondocks of cricket to achieving the kind of eminence he has is a remarkable story that will be continuously revived and retold by generations to come, much after he has retired and gone.
That, however, is in the future. For the present, Dhoni’s superb display in the three-match ODI series has not only stymied the growing criticism against him, but also (barring injury) sealed his place in the squad for the World Cup beginning in June.
Frankly, there is nothing enigmatic about Dhoni’s approach to batting. Barring his first few years in international cricket, he has hardly ever been a slam-bang batsman, preferring instead to build an innings and shape a win for his team.
Some of the old power is obviously missing because of advancing years, but he remains the canniest run chaser still in the Indian team, apart from being the best wicket-keeper and a fount of great experience.
With other players like Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav and Rishabh Pant (who would be a certain pick in my World Cup squad) stepping up as finishers, Dhoni fits in perfectly as pivot/anchor.
But while Dhoni hogged the spotlight and the headlines, India’s win in the ODI series came because of splendid contributions from several in the squad: Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Karthik and Jadhav in the batting and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal in the bowling were top class.
Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja couldn’t replicate the wicket-taking form they had shown in the Tests and Shikhar Dhawan failed to get a big score though he got a start in all matches, but they were not failures.
Mohammed Siraj and Khaleel Ahmed, both rookies, showed their nervousness, but both are extremely promising and one of them could make the cut for the World Cup. The only disappointment was Ambati Rayudu, who would be hoping to set things right in the New Zealand leg of the tour.
I’d extend this even to the Test series, where despite the failures of Murali Vijay and K.L Rahul, there were more pluses than minuses for Indian cricket, reflected well in the 2-1 scoreline.
Cheteshwar Pujara rediscovering his mojo to make big scores and Jasprit Bumrah taking rapid strikes to becoming one of the finest fast bowlers currently were obviously the leading lights, but it was by no means a two-man show.
Kohli’s stature as the best batsman in the world remains undiminished, Pant has emerged as an exciting find, Jadeja’s all-round prowess has got more heft, Shami’s searching pace and skills showed good enhancement, Ishant’s control made the pace trio lethal, Ashwin —hampered by injury — looked in fine form otherwise, and young Kuldeep now demands regular attention as a Test bowler.
Success in both formats —weather prevented a clean sweep as the T20 series was drawn — highlights the richness, depth and range of talent in Indian cricket. This has been boosted by internecine competition for places, which has made the team performances more intense.
For instance, Kuldeep, not a first choice spinner for Tests, came up with a stellar effort when given the chance. Bhuvaneshwar, sidelined for the Tests, was the best bowler in the ODIs. Chahal and Jadhav, who got opportunity only in the last match, made it count in telling style.
In a path-breaking tour, the only sore issue has been the off-field controversy surrounding Hardik Pandya and K L Rahul. Both are serious contenders for places in the World Cup team. Their absence in the build-up matches (there are 10 remaining till the tournament starts) affects their future as well as the plans of the selectors and team management.
What Pandya (particularly) and Rahul did on the Karan Johar show was ‘cringe worthy’, as the BCCI put it. How harshly their misdemeanour should be judged has been a matter of unstinted debate in the past few weeks. My submission would be a stiff reprimand and a quick closure to the matter.
This was a first offence for which both had tendered unqualified apology and also been punished by being pulled out of the ODI series versus Australia. To prolong the process of justice, just because the Committee Of Administrators is a house divided, is beginning to look like unseemly powerplay.