Harish Kotian explains why Dhoni's cricketing instincts will be invaluable at the 2019 World Cup.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni's career is inching towards the finish mark faster than before.
One of India's greatest players in limited overs cricket, the twice World Cup winning captain -- the T20 in 2007 and the ODI in 2011 -- is facing a race against time as we inch closer to the 2019 World Cup.
The Indian selectors indicated that Dhoni is on notice by leaving him out of the squad for the T20I series against the West Indies and Australia.
India's No 1 wicket-keeper-batsman in ODIs, Dhoni's performances in the just concluded series against the West Indies and the upcoming ODI series in Australia in January will come under the scanner more than ever.
In 2018 so far, Dhoni's ODI performances have not been encouraging. He has scored just 275 runs in 13 innings at an average of 25 at a lowly strike rate of 71.
In the second ODI in Visakhapatnam, he came in to bat at No 5 in the 33rd over and had enough time to get his eye in, but he only managed a lacklustre 20 from 25 balls.
In the following game in Pune, he was pushed down to No 6 behind Rishabh Pant, walked in to bat in the 36th over, but again failed as he was caught behind for 7.
In the fourth ODI in Mumbai which India dominated, Dhoni was unable to get the big hits at the end as he fell for 23 from 15 balls in the 49th over.
The scales tilt in Dhoni's favour based on his experience as a successful former captain.
Dhoni's inputs during a game to the bowlers and fielders should work in the veteran's favour when it comes to the 2019 World Cup believes former chief selector Kiran More.
"Dhoni should be part of the Indian team and he should play in the 2019 World Cup. He is a senior player and he is very important part of the team," More said.
"He handles the spinners well and if you see he constantly advises them how to bowl and how to set fields," adds More, a former India wicket-keeper himself. "So if he is not around, then it will be a problem, especially in the World Cup."
Dhoni's ability to read match situations and handle the pressure in tough run chases is be another key factor.
"He is an important part of the batting unit," points out More. "He bats at No 5 or No 6 and shoulders a lot of responsibility, so definitely he should be there in the World Cup."
More believes if Dhoni is part of India's plans for the 2019 World Cup, then he should not have been dropped from the T20 team as he should be playing as many games as possible -- be it ODIs or T20Is.
There is no doubt that Dhoni's fitness and wicket-keeping skills are top notch, but his batting stock has taken a huge dip in recent years.
Since the ICC Champions Trophy, Dhoni has not produced encouraging results with the bat. He has scored 898 runs in 45 games at an average of 44.52 at a strike rate of 80.
Performance by Year in ODIs:
|Year||Matches||Innings||Not Out||100s||50s||Highest Score||Runs||Average||Strike Rate||Catches||Stumpings|
|2005||27||24||6||2||3||183 not out||895||49.72||103.11||19||6|
|2007||37||33||8||1||7||139 not out||1,103||44.12||89.6||31||18|
|2008||29||26||7||1||8||109 not out||1,097||57.74||82.3||38||11|
|2010||18||17||4||1||3||101 not out||600||46.15||78.95||19||4|
|2011||24||22||9||0||6||91 not out||764||58.77||89.88||17||6|
|2012||16||14||6||1||3||113 not out||524||65.5||87.63||12||5|
|2013||26||20||8||1||5||139 not out||753||62.75||96.05||21||13|
|2014||12||10||2||0||5||79 not out||418||52.25||92.07||7||6|
|2015||20||17||3||0||4||92 not out||640||45.71||86.84||27||3|
|2018||20||13||2||0||0||42 not out||275||25||71.43||16||10|
|TOTAL||332||281||78||10||67||183 not out||10,173||50.11||87.9||309||115|
Performance in ODIs since 2017 ICC Champions Trophy:
|Year||Matches||Innings||100s||50s||Highest Score||Runs||Average||Strike Rate||Catches||Stumpings|
|2017 ICC Champions Trophy||5||2||0||1||63||67||33.5||98.53||4||0|
|India's tour of the West Indies 2017||5||4||0||2||78 not out||154||154||71.63||5||3|
|India's tour of Sri Lanka 2017||5||4||0||1||67 not out||162||82.23||5||3|
|Australia's tour of India 2017||5||4||0||1||79||100||33.33||87.72||3||3|
|New Zealand's tour of India 2017||3||3||0||0||25||68||34||85||3||0|
|Sri Lanka's tour of India 2017||3||2||0||1||65||72||36||78.26||4||2|
|India's tour of South Africa 2018||6||4||0||0||42 not out||69||34.5||81.18||4||2|
|India's tour of England 2018||3||2||0||0||42||79||39.5||63.2||3||0|
|2018 Asia Cup||6||4||0||0||36||77||19.25||62.1||6||6|
|West Indies tour of India 2018||5||3||0||0||23||50||16.67||98.04||4||2|
Performances in ODI World Cups:
|Tournament||Matches||Innings||Not Out||100s||50s||0s||Highest Score||Runs||Average||Strike Rate||Catches||Stumpings|
|2007 World Cup||3||3||0||0||0||2||29||29||9.67||100||5||2|
|2011 World Cup||9||8||3||0||1||0||91 not out||241||48.2||81.69||7||3|
|2015 World Cup||8||6||2||0||2||0||85 not out||237||59.25||102.16||15||0|
India must have planned well in advance with regard to Dhoni playing the World Cup, says former selector Raja Venkat, adding that it is too late to make a big change with the World Cup just 7 months away.
"If the team management have kept him in the ODI team," says Raja, "they are clear that he will be there for the World Cup, so the question of having somebody else doesn't arise."
"If you had different ideas, you should have tried it two years ago wherein somebody like a Rishabh Pant or somebody else you wanted to try, you could have done that, but not now," adds Raja.
Raja, who was a national selector from 2008 to 2012, believes that if handled well, Dhoni could be a big asset at the World Cup, batting in the middle overs than at the end.
"Dhoni at one point of time was one of the finest finishers of the game," says Raja. "But with age or whatever the reason, he is not the same batsman anymore where he can come and start hitting from ball one. He takes some time to settle down."
"So I would say India can use him wisely, say if India lose a wicket in the 25th or 30th over, then he should bat at No 4 or No. 5, from that position he can build the innings," Raja adds.
Importantly, he points out that Dhoni still commands a regular spot in the playing XI.
"He is still not a liability for the team. If he was a liability, then it is different, but it is very clear he is not the same Dhoni as before".
Dhoni's match-winning six at the Wankhede Stadium to win the 2011 World Cup is every Indian cricket fan's most treasured moment. And you can't rule out the legendary wicket-keeper-batsman saving his best for the last.
Expect him to produce another piece of magic next year to lift India to another World Cup!