A spread-eagled MS Dhoni, foxed by Mitchell Santner in the second T-20, is not a pleasant sight. And has raised many an eyebrow about his retention for the crucial T-20 decider at Thiruvananthapuram. VVS Laxman, for one, has batted for his replacement; as has the obstreperous Boria Majumdar, who wants a tossup between Dinesh Karthik and Wriddhiman Saha. But the person who will really decide his fate would be the Indian Captain, whose admiration for him knows no bounds. With a cake splattered all over his face after celebrating his 29th Birthday, Virat Kohli said: “I don’t think I have never ever come across a better cricketing brain than MSD. Our friendship has only grown over the years. I am lucky to have him by my side”. Virat is known to be mercurial and reminds one of the eternal pugilist, Javed Miandad, who also paid the similar fulsome compliment on the charismatic Imran Khan, after Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992.
The Indian team at the moment is possibly the best ever in terms of talent. But is wobbling in the middle order with an embarrassment of riches like Hardik Pandya, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Kedar Jadhav and KL Rahul who are pushing for three places in the team. With Hardik, the pinch hitter a clear Virat favourite, it’s a tossup between the rest of the four for two places. Jadhav looks a safer bet in the middle with the bat and the ball, while it is like tweedledum and tweedledee bee between the other three! Rahane and Rohit would possibly stitch a more assured opening partnership for India, against quality pace in foreign pitches.
Coming to the spinning combination, India has a surfeit of champions like Yuzvendra Chahel, Kuldeep Yadav, Akshar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Kohli has been brave enough to leave out Aswini and Jadeja for quite some time and shuffling between the rest of the three, to pick up his two spinners. Chahel picks himself with his uncanny length and variation; whereas Akshar Patel can be predictably accurate. That’s where the batsmen can have a field day of his bowling on a flat pitch, as it happened in the second T-20 match at Jamnagar- Kuldeep Yadav is a better bet, with his flight and variation, reminding one of even Shane Warne. Being a Anil Kumble protégé, Kuldeep remains a fence sitter. Both Clarke and Williams on believe that Chahel and Kuldeep are the most tricky customers in the spinning business.
Wicket keeper-batsmen is another kettle of fish, as long as MSD is around. Though 37, MSD is the best wicket keeper between the stumps, with lightening reflexes and uncanny anticipation. Neither Karthik or Saha can hold a candle to him on this score. Quite possibly Karthik is the best batsmen out of the three and could replace Dhoni, not only for the final T-20, but in the one day internationals for the World Cup 2019.
When the inaugural world cup was to be held in 1975, Clive Lloyd preferred Rohan Kanhai over Garfield Sobers, who was very keen to play his last match for the West Indies. Clive Lloyd, the cool cat, preferred Kanhai observing “Rohan has a wood cutter’s precision to cut wood and a potter’s finesse in making the finest earthward. Most importantly is the best in a crisis to bat in tandem”. No wonder Rohan’s patient 55 in company with Lloyd’s scintillating 102 proved the decider in the World Cup final. Just as Javed’s 59 in a 139 run partnership with Imran Khan did for Pakistan, winning the World Cup final in 1992.
Dhoni’s reflexes are possibly as not silver quick as it was before. One hardly sees his “helicopter” shot these days. But the way he insouciantly lifts the sixes or pummels the ball for a boundary, before any fielder can bend, reminds one of Viv Richards at his best. In Dhoni’s case, it is not as “if the spirit is willing, but the flesh in weak”. He is perhaps the fastest sprinter between the wickets and his dedication to the game planning and instincts, as Virat said yesterday, “works 8 or 9 out 10 times”.
Mathew Hayden had once said that MS Dhoni is “someone who finds things funny that only seven years olds would”. It’s indeed a perceptive observation as Dhoni has become the third commentator behind the camera these days, prodding the bowlers. The Indian team needs the becalming presence of a MSD, with the incredible talent of Virat and Rohit in tow as batsmen. With Rahane as an opener, it will be a good cover for the “dodgy” middle that India is presently contending with. One wishes that Yuvi was there, in the middle order, lifting the balls effortlessly with the insouciant grace of a Brain Lara. The likes of Shreyas, Manish and Rahul have to realize that earning India’s cricketing cap is as onerous as retaining a wicket keeper’s job, even with the charismatic talent of a Dhoni!
The author teaches Constitutional law