Ever since making his debut in 2004, MS Dhoni, has carried enormous pressure on his shoulders. In his early years, he played under the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Anil Kumble and then took over a team which had a lot to prove.
Dhoni is considered to be the greatest Indian captain had lead the team in all three formats for over a decade until stepping down as the Test captain to hand the baton to Virat Kohli. Further to that, he was widely acclaimed for his big hitting in the death overs while maintaining a cool head on his shoulders. If that wasn’t enough, he would do the job behind the stumps too with complete finesse. He successfully withstood the immense scrutiny, with a largely emotionless face. The Ranchi superstar has won it all— ICC World T20 in 2007, World Cup in 2011, ICC Champions Trophy in 2013 and led the team to the top of the Test rankings in 2009. But now the 35-year-old is approaching the twilight of his career.
So when he bids adieu to the sport and packs his kit permanently, Indian cricket will be posed with another question: Who will be the next Dhoni? Who will fill the big boots of MS?
After finding Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara as ‘replacements’ of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, finding a perfect substitute for Dhoni won’t be an easy task. MS is someone who can absorb pressure, can keep wickets and more importantly be a game changer.
It will be entirely upto the selectors whether they are prepared to invest in a young talent, who can be nurtured under the limited overs captain – most likely to be Kohli – or to gamble with the old ones till they find the ‘next MS’.
Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson, Ankush Bains, Smit Patel are a few names which can pop up in the selectors’ minds for a long term investment.
Rishabh Pant, with 972 runs in the current Ranji Trophy season, is a precocious talent. The Delhi lad showed his abilities with some jaw-dropping innings, including the fastest first-class century off 48 balls or the triple hundred against Maharashtra. Pant, who loves to hit big sixes, surely can be seen to take Dhoni’s place in the national team behind the stumps.
However, Pant has a long way to go and has to impress the selectors by not just scoring runs and power hitting but has to play role of a game changer. Having former cricketer Rahul Dravid as the coach — India U-19, Delhi Daredevils — Pant has to improve himself in keeping and batting.
Ishan Kishan, with a similar batting style that of MS Dhoni, also has made his name through big performances in domestic cricket. Like Dhoni, Ishan is famous for his aggressive play and started his Ranji career as an opener. He didn’t, however, have much of the success.
In the current ongoing season, under MS Dhoni’s mentorship, he has prospered a lot. The wicketkeeper not only has changed his batting position but also changed his approach towards the game.
The left-handed batsman showed glimpses of his talent, when went on to score an unbeaten 159 against Karnataka, 273 against Delhi and 136 against Saurashtra.
Again, his ability to score big and keep wickets makes him one of the most suitable men, who can live up to the expectations and to fit into the boots of MS Dhoni.
Sanju Samson, from Kerala, has the potential of making it big under Dravid’s tutelage provided he keeps his off-the-field issues where they belong. Recently, he has been under-fire from Karnataka Cricket Association for his misconduct both on and off-field.
Unfortunately, Samson has recently not been able to convert the starts into big scores. He has reasonable skills as a wicketkeeper but has not done well in the last two domestic seasons to impress the selectors. The 22-year-old has scored 1975 runs from 37 first class matches at a strike rate of 52.59, which include seven centuries and four fifties.
The 21-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman made his first-class debut for Himachal Pradesh in 2013. Since then Ankush Bains has scored 1483 runs in 31 matches. In these four seasons, Ankush has smashed five centuries and couple of half-centuries at a strike rate of 54.42.
Bains was bought by Chennai Super Kings in the eighth edition of Indian Premier League from Rajasthan Royals. Later, he joined Rising Pune SuperGiants in IPL 2016.
Ankush has worked with Dhoni ever since he joined Super Kings. The right-handed batsman had a disappointing Ranji season as he could only manage 336 runs from eight matches. Ankush can be seen as an alternative but the youngster has to make his performances count. His best innings this season came against Tripura, where he went on to score 113.
Tripura’s wicketkeeper-batsman Smit Patel has had a decent Ranji season and has managed to score 596 runs in eight matches that included three hundreds and a half-century.
Patel, who joined Tripura after getting little exposure in the Gujarat side with Parthiv Patel as the first choice keeper, is yet to make his Indian Premier league debut. However, Patel is optimistic about the future.
Smit averages 31.52 after scoring 1513 runs from 29 first-class appearances. Since his First-Class debut in November 2012, Patel has played only 21 matches. Having a dream of playing for India, Patel can only dream of making the national team if he gets more playing time in domestic cricket.