Team India don’t really have to deal with the Dhoni situation

As the third Indian wicket fell in the 27th over against West Indies at Old Trafford on Thursday, interest peaked among those watching. MS Dhoni was expected to walk out next. Usually any Indian-partisan crowd is raring to cheer him onto the field at such moments. Yet, there was an anti-climatic hush at Old Trafford.

Mind you, it had nothing to do with Kedar Jadhav walking out instead. The think-tank had held Dhoni back. It was a different route from the situation in Southampton when the former skipper had walked out in the 27th over and made a mighty meal of his innings on a slow, spin-friendly track. Jadhav had compiled a smoother half-century against Afghanistan, and perhaps the Indian team wanted to cash in on that run of form.

It didn’t work, and Dhoni eventually did walk out in the 29th over. That same hush appeared again, sceptical of what they would get to see next. Perhaps then they realized stature of the batsman walking out, irrespective of his current form. Or maybe, it was just the furtive thought that we are seeing the last few knocks from Dhoni on the  international stage. ALSO READ: India march on, but frailties persist

He isn’t one for sentiment though. Dhoni continues to play because he knows there is still come contribution left in him. More often than not, it comes from behind the stumps, as advice to young wrist spinners or field-placement tips to Virat Kohli. Yes, he also has the final say on most DRS decisions. Nothing here is based on emotion – it is all about experience and how it is a valued commodity in that Indian dressing room. ALSO READ: India knock out West Indies to remain unbeaten

The issue though is of batting prowess. Is Dhoni a specialist keeper now? No, and anyone who says that, even jokingly, is only making a fool of himself. Yet, it is getting tougher and tougher to argue against the naysayers. And so, it is time to accept that this is no longer the batsman we once knew. He will not thump bowling attacks at will nowadays, he will not end every game in a flurry and, yes, there is no guarantee of victory in case there is a tight finish. ALSO READ: We always back Dhoni, he has won so many games – Kohli

The question then is of general expectation. What form of Dhoni do fans expect and accept? It is tough to figure this one out, for over almost two decades, he has transcended general expectations. He surprised all of us, and now he no longer can. It is a problem. But is it the Indian team’s problem? No, it isn’t.

Unlike those watching from the outside, the inner machinations of a dressing room aren’t as complicated. For us, it is pretty evident that Dhoni is no longer the batsman he once was. There is a struggle against spin, particularly in rotating the strike, and even against pace, he consumes more deliveries than he used to. Dhoni always took his time settling down and then changing gears from three to five. Now, he starts in second gear and stays in the third gear that extra bit longer, reaching fifth less frequently. The Indian team management sees this, day in and day out, and alters its plans accordingly.

More importantly, they don’t judge hastily, if at all. This team management – including Kohli, coach Ravi Shastri, the support staff and even the selectors – may not ever accept this change in Dhoni publicly. They don’t have to – their focus is on winning the tournament and in that they are clear. This objective – of returning home with the World Cup trophy – can only be achieved with Dhoni in the playing eleven. This decision was made a long time ago.

It explains the freedom Dhoni is afforded. When Kohli defends him in post-match presentation, saying, “he knows exactly what to do in the middle”, it doesn’t come out as a furtive statement. It explained this West Indies game full well – on a slow pitch, the Indian team had lost a few too many wickets in the middle overs and they were further hamstrung by Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s absence. With the tail beginning at number eight, Dhoni simply had to play the way he did.

“When you need those 15-20 runs, he knows exactly how to get them. His experience, 8 out of 10 times has come good for us. He always gives us feedback, so you know that 260 is a good score,” added Kohli.

Cynics might argue that Kohli’s words don’t matter because there is every chance India could have got more, if he had shown more urgency in overs 31-40. The other side of this argument is that India probably could have been bowled out, and not even reached over 250, if it had been the case. The underlying point is that this Indian dressing room trusts the judgment of those out in the middle, as it should be, and in this particular case, they had the benefit of having a stalwart drive the innings forward.

Dhoni read the situation to perfection, as he mostly does, and his 70-run stand with Hardik Pandya changed the game. In that light, his knock was wonderfully paced, with the slight acceleration coming late. It was mindful of India’s relatively lightweight lower-middle order, and the tough situation they could potentially face. More importantly, it was significantly different than the scratchy knock he played against Afghanistan four days ago.

It brings us to the end-point of this never-ending debate. Dhoni’s batting prowess has waned, and of that there is no doubt. Is he a problem for India’s middle order? Yes, he can be, especially if KL Rahul continues to throw away starts and they lose too many wickets before the 30th over. But, also no, because this Indian team works around him as a focal point in their bid to win this 2019 World Cup.

The Dhoni situation isn’t something the Men in Blue have to deal with, period. Do the fans even get a say in this matter? No.