Stephen Fleming believes that there is no one like MS Dhoni and the former Indian captain can extend his cricket career until the 2019 World Cup. Dhoni will by 38 by the time World Cup comes around but Fleming believes that he can do it.
In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, Fleming said, “There are a lot of players who can do that, but there is only one MS Dhoni at the moment. I think his track record deserves the first crack at it. He has balance in his life now so he can get fit and come back fresh. I think he will do it. He is aware that he needs to keep performing and that’s when great players are at their best. If you get too comfortable you are not at your best.”
Fleming has worked with Dhoni as a coach during Indian Premier League stints with Chennai Super Kings and Rising Pune Supergiant and said that Dhoni is desperate to keep performing.
“He is not arrogant enough to assume that he will make it through to the 2019 World Cup. He’s made it clear that he wants to play that World Cup but he knows he also to do well to do that. He’s now trying to prove his worth as he did when he was a youngster. That again is a tribute to his approach to the game and his humility towards the game. He’s desperate to keep performing. If he feels he stops performing and starts to lag and becomes a hindrance, then he will give up the game.”
Though he was all praise for Dhoni, Fleming also said that he won’t be the same Dhoni he was four-five years ago. The former New Zealand cricketer asked Dhoni to keep his finishers job.
“It [moving up the order] depends on the balance of the side,” Fleming reasoned. “If you have straight-out batsmen, then I wouldn’t. He can do it but what you have to look at is that his strength is finishing the game. People say why don’t you get him in earlier but the whole game changes from the 40th over, or the 16th over if it is a T20 game, when it becomes [the] death [overs]. And that’s where he’s been the best, I think.
“So you have to be careful you don’t take that strength; when you apply it earlier, you lose that, maybe he gets out early. Not many can do what he can in the last stanza but many can do that job in the middle. So you don’t want to take away that strength just to give him more time and get him up the order to play a more substantial innings, when his strength is in the last few.
“We have such high expectations of what he can do and often that is unfair. There is going to be some slippage, every great player has slipped a little bit as they’ve got older. At key times he is still contributing. Even this IPL it wasn’t there as much as other years but at key times he was there. In the game against Mumbai [Indians], a virtual semi-final, he got 40 off a few balls and played a great hand.
“The other thing is to play without fear. Often when you get older, the consequence starts to creep in. So what we’ve talked about is playing that fearless brand of cricket that he’s become known for, and making sure that he doesn’t get too cautious and too worried about getting out and the consequences of that. He’s at his best when he has no fear.”
In ODIs, Dhoni has has scored 9275 runs in 286 matches at an average of nearly 51 but off late he has been under much speculation for his place in the one-day internaional team. Dhoni’s batting has taken a hit after the 2015 World Cup but Fleming says that his keeping is better.
“I can’t say it is through a lot of training. In fact during my time in the IPL, I have not seen him do any wicket-keeping training, it is all natural and it’s unorthodox but it’s fast and effective. Some of the dismissals and stumpings during the recent IPL were absolutely dynamite. So there’s nothing wrong there and that’s a great sign of reflexes and where he is, because people are questioning his age and his batting and the role he can play. If his keeping was deteriorating that might be a sign but it is actually getting better, which is a real positive for India.”
Dhoni, who stepped down from ODI and T20I captaincy in January, will find it diffucult to adjust in the team as a player, believes Fleming.
“It is very difficult, I can speak from my own experience,” Fleming said. “Once you get away from that decision-making, people can say it’s very easy, you can focus on your own game and do your own thing, but it is very hard to switch the other things off. You are so used to being the decision-maker, moving players and being part of the tactics, it becomes a key part of how you play the game. It does take some adjustment.
“He is a wicketkeeper, he is used to positioning players, but it’s still a challenge to sit back. You want to be part of decision-making, it is a key part of why you play the game. It is one of his challenges going forward. He has coped with it pretty well so far. He needs to be used to add that value and experience he has had over the years and more so for him, to feel like he is contributing rather than the other way round.”