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India need MS Dhoni across formats, but with a lesser workload

Captain MS Dhoni has played 257 international matches since becoming skipper in 2007. That is the most by any player since then © Getty Images
Captain MS Dhoni has played 257 international matches since becoming skipper in 2007. That is the most by any player since then © Getty Images

Indian captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has ruled out the possibility of another player taking over the reins of the team in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) as the 2015 World Cup draws closer by the day. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes why India need Dhoni in all formats, but his workload has to be managed ahead of the big event.

Turn your clock back to early 2012, when the heat was on skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni as his side plummeted to unprecedented nadirs during the Test series Down Under. As his captaincy came under scrutiny, Dhoni sounded a warning bell by claiming that he would assess his fitness and form at the end of 2013 and possibly give up a format. While many felt the weight of the overseas losses was getting to him, Dhoni reasoned by saying that it was to allow India to plan ahead of the 2015 World Cup. However, as 2014 commences, he has made it clear that he is here to stay through to the big event.

Let us closely examine Dhoni’s views two years apart. Here is exactly what he said in 2012, “Of course form is a big factor but also what I need to say is that all of a sudden in 2014 if I feel I can’t survive the 2015 World Cup and there comes a new wicketkeeper who has played just 30 ODIs, it’s not fair. At 2013 end, I have to decide if I am fit enough to proceed in one of the format. It’s not for personal reasons but for the country and for the individual who is taking my position. He should have played at least 70-80 ODIs before he goes into World Cup. That’s my personal thinking.”

And here is what he said recently, “I think, it’s a point of no return with the World Cup literally one year away from now. It won’t give a new guy the ideal time to play, at least 70-80-90 games beginning to the World Cup that’s what we would like to have him play before the World Cup.” Back then, many speculated that Dhoni was referring to Test cricket, but he made it all ambiguous by hinting at “one of the formats.” But, in reality, even if Dhoni was to give up ODIs, he couldn’t have waited for early 2014 as certainly India wouldn’t play that number in 12 months. So, it may have been the pressure of leading an unsuccessful Test side in 2012 that may have pressured Dhoni to say that — uncharacteristic one may say as he is one player who absorbs pressure.

Having said that, India need Dhoni in all formats for some time now. In ODIs, it is a no brainer. Being one of the best batsmen in the world and one of the coolest finishers, he continues to be India’s biggest hope in the middle order. Should the formidable top order fail, Dhoni’s presence in the middle brings in a sense of assurance. And, if need be, he is a floater and can be shuffled in the batting order even on the biggest day. As a wicketkeeper, he is clean to the fast bowlers, but magnificent while standing up to the spinners. Is there a faster stumper in the world today? Combining those faculties, you get a calm leader who brings the best out of his side with a unique monk like temperament. Surely, you need him for your title defence Down Under.

In Test cricket, India are still recovering after the loss of the legends. It is a young side and needs a senior man to guide them through. Yes, there may be the odd doubt over his ability to bat in overseas conditions, but there is no better man for the job. Even if you accept the fact that he cannot succeed abroad, what you cannot ignore is his ability to adjust and advance. Having started off as a dashing batsman, Dhoni tempered over the years to become one of the most dependable batsmen in the side. You cannot write him off there as he may fine tune his game according to the conditions when India travel overseas.

As far as T20 cricket is concerned, India do not play too many in the year. For the big events such as the upcoming ICC World T20 2014, India would need his presence as they would want to impress in a tournament they have flattered to deceive after the maiden edition. But in the future, T20 cricket may be a field where India may foster the gradual passing over of the baton. It could be possible that Dhoni may sit out of a few inconsequential T20 internationals and allow Virat Kohli to blend into the role. It doesn’t seem likely, but cannot be ruled out.

Virat Kohli will be handed responsibilities gradually, but India still needs MS Dhoni across formats © Getty Images
Virat Kohli (right) will be handed responsibilities gradually, but India still need MS Dhoni (left) across formats © Getty Images

If there is anything India have to be wary of is Dhoni’s fitness. For a wicketkeeper, who is also a frontline batsman and more importantly the captain, he has kept himself remarkably fit and has played 257 internationals games since he took over the reins in 2007. That is the most for any cricketer since that time and add to that the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Champions League T20 (CLT20) assignments, his workload his humongous.

Earlier this year, this writer had written about the importance of managing Dhoni’s workload when the Indian skipper injured himself during the tri-series in the Caribbean. With the World Cup a little over a year away, the Indian selectors and Dhoni need to come to an understanding, whereby he may opt out of a few tournaments to keep himself fit and ready. At 32, he isn’t getting any younger and India do need him in the long run.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)

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