Meagre returns: Dhoni’s retirement from Tests, announced inadvertently in the middle of India’s tour to Australia in 2014-15, was widely perceived as a measure to prolong his limited-over career and regain his batting productivity, which was on the wane, it has, in hindsight, gloriously back-fired. He didn’t won a single match in the pre-World Cup build-up series featuring England and Australia. The World Cup defence eventually met with a tame end at the hands of eventual champions Australia. Then he lost to Bangladesh and against South Africa at home, before a predominantly second-string Australia walloped India Down Under. Finally, it took a trip to Zimbabwe for him to taste a series win. Even the most recent of his series wins, over New Zealand, was more of a scrape than a cruise. In fact, India won just 16 of the 32 ODIs since. Though the T20 series win in Australia was a morale-booster, it was soon deflated by India’s semifinal exit in the T20 World Cup, a tournament India began as favourites.
Middling with the bat: In his prime, Dhoni not only made finishing an art but also fashionable. But his fabled finishing skills have dawdled, shown signs of saturation. While statistics aren’t the ultimate proof, they do reveal a once-masterful batsman facing an inalterable downturn. An ODI average of 38 isn’t middling by even modern-day batting yardstick, but the number of instances he failed to finish off a chase was creeping up. Like for example, his laborious 34 against New Zealand in Delhi. He in fact moved up the order, but without much discernible improvements. Maybe, forsaking captaincy would help Dhoni re-channelise his focus and energy. His T20 average in this tenure is a stunning 43.83, but apart from a 25-balled 43 against the West Indies in Lauderhill, he hasn’t posted a score over 30 in 23 innings.
Juggling act: In fairness, the current limited-over squads look ostensibly unsettled. Apart from the top three, and Dhoni himself, the rest of the batting spots are up for grabs. From Kedar Jadhav to Manish Pandey, they have drafted and redrafted several batmen, but apart from impressive performances, none have quite nailed down the spot. Ditto for the several-decade-long quest for an all-rounder. From Rishi Dhawan to Gurkeerat Singh and now Hardik Pandya, several names have been tried, tested and binned.
Readiness of Virat: Surely, Dhoni must have also taken into account the skyrocketing graph of Virat Kohli, India’s Test captain. In general, India have always preferred the one-skipper-for-all template and there were murmurs within the fraternity that the time was ripe to hand over the mantle to Kohli, with two more years for the next World Cup.