Only three months have passed since India lost to Bangladesh in that ill-planned ODI series in June. In this interim, the Test side went to Sri Lanka and started off their new season on a victorious note. And now, after almost two years, a proper Indian home season is in the offing as South Africa have reached these shores.
A familiar face will be seen again, last seen in India colours during that Bangladesh series. Since then, he has only been spotted here and there in rare public events, or jumping off Army helicopters. Yes, MS Dhoni will be back in action. Needless to say, it makes for an intriguing – and exciting – start to the series.
It is intriguing because when he went away from the Indian set-up, albeit for a short while, there was a lot of noise about his captaincy and the 2-1 loss to Bangladesh. The new Test captain had taken over, and after the semi-final finish in the 2015 ODI World Cup, it was almost as if the whole country was ready to move on.
There were questions about India’s loss, but they were directed more pointedly towards Dhoni. Why was he still captain? How long will he be captain? Won’t his continued leadership hamper India’s 2019 preparations? Why shouldn’t Kohli be captain already and start planning for that same World Cup? It wasn’t an unexpected reaction. After all, a captain-in-waiting was available as the common answer.
Kohli has done a fair job as Test captain so far. Another good Test outing against South Africa at home, combined with a possible poor outing in ODIs for Dhoni, will raise the ruckus to top volume once again. It cannot be denied that Kohli is hurtling towards ODI captaincy as well, and the selectors are affording Dhoni all the respect he deserves.
But Dhoni is his own man, and if Indian cricket hasn’t learnt this yet, it probably never will. When the time comes, he won’t need to be told. He will depart before any of us will even realize it. It can be said that the man feels that he has something to offer Indian cricket still, both in terms of his leadership and his batting/keeping in the limited-overs arena. And in all probability, he is not wrong.
There was a slow, barely noticeable dip in his batting form in the lead-up to his Test retirement. But a good World Cup outing – wherein he scored at 59.25 in eight matches – put an end to those questions. Now, he attempts to bat at number four in order to bring in more stability to the team. It is a fascinating prospect for two reasons. One, he should have batted there already for a long time now, especially since India has been missing a proper number four in ODIs for nearly two years now.
And two, batting at number four cannot be a short-term solution. If he is pushing himself to do the job, does he intend to carry on for longer than anticipated, that is the 2016 T20 World Cup? The answer to this question adds intrigue to the whole situation.
It is quite possible that Dhoni intends to carry on for a while, and only as a player. In the near future, he might just relinquish the captaincy and provide a tailored number four to the new ODI skipper as a welcome gift. Much of that depends on how he bats in this coming T20 and ODI series against South Africa, though.
As such, you have to agree with team director Ravi Shastri for Dhoni at number four is the best solution at the moment. It obviously sidelines Ajinkya Rahane to a certain extent, but if included in the playing eleven, the Mumbaikar might sparkle in the finisher’s role as well.
But this isn’t about him. This is about how Dhoni can marshal the batting order in the middle overs, and when set, well, there aren’t many around nearly as explosive as him.
Imagine then, independent of the burden of leading the side, Dhoni letting his bat do the talking subsequently. It will free his mind, like the longhaired youngster he once was, when he first burst onto the scene more than a decade ago. It will restore adventure to his cricket once again. And perhaps he will give us a vintage performance for atleast a couple more seasons to come.
This thought alone paints this new home season in exciting colours. Roll on!