M S Dhoni’s omission from the list of 27 centrally contracted players, for the period from October 2019 to September 2020 was not unexpected. The former India captain has been in cricketing hibernation for the last six-odd months.
The BCCI annual player contracts are meant for those who are available to play for India. Dhoni hasn’t played any competitive cricket after the 2019 World Cup. He was on a Rs 5-crore, Grade A contract during the last one-year cycle.
Even within the BCCI, there have been murmurs over how a contracted player could make himself unavailable unless he was injured. Dhoni did carry a back niggle to the World Cup that got aggravated during the course of the tournament.
He also picked up a wrist injury during the World Cup. But a contracted player is supposed to check-in at the National Cricket Academy for his recovery and rehab. Instead, Dhoni, an honorary Lieutenant Colonel, went for a two-week stint with the Indian Army’s Para Regiment in Kashmir after the World Cup.
Things need to be seen in perspective.
The BCCI could not have handed a central contract to a player who is currently not active. At the same time, the contract snub doesn’t mark the end of Dhoni as a cricketer, at least in T20 internationals.
The veteran is long retired from Test cricket, and with the next 50-over World Cup three years away, he no longer remains in the scheme of things for the longer format. The selectors and the Indian team management have been grooming Rishabh Pant, who he is considered to be the future.
However, the ICC T20 World Cup will be played in Australia in October-November this year and a big IPL can suddenly change things for Dhoni. To read between the lines, there’s a reason why Dhoni hasn’t called time on his white-ball career yet. Remember, this is the man who announced his Test retirement in the middle of a series in Australia. His decision to quit limited-overs captaincy, too, had similar suddenness.
Pant is taking time to get into the groove. By now he has got accustomed to the jeers of “Dhoni, Dhoni” across venues in India every time he misses a catch, fumbles a stumping or errs a review call.
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Even K L Rahul, who was the stand-in gloveman after Pant suffered a concussion during the first ODI against Australia at Wankhede, faced the “Dhoni, Dhoni” chants.
India will be playing five T20Is and three ODIs in New Zealand in January-February. The whole limited-overs leg, in challenging conditions, will be the litmus test for Pant. A failure will increase the clamour for Dhoni’s return.
The IPL will follow –and Dhoni playing for Chennai Super Kings is an altogether different proposition. If the 38-year-old rolls back the years, he will be strongly in contention for the T20 World Cup. Even the head coach of the Indian team, Ravi Shastri, has dropped not-so-subtle hints on this.
Little wonder then that a top BCCI official remained non-committal on Dhoni’s future.