Only Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi have appeared in more T20 international matches than Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Only Rohit Sharma has won as many IPL titles as the Chennai Super Kings’ skipper. Yet, the man who led India to their maiden—and only—T20 World Cup, in the process instilling the game into consciousness of India’s cricket fraternity, culminating in the conception of IPL, was dropped for T20Is against the West Indies and Australia.
His axing summons three questions. The first, whether it’s a signal that the selectors don’t consider him indispensable for the shortest format. The second, if it’s a bigger message that if he continues to labour in the ODIs, as he had been of late, he could be overlooked. Now that Rishabh Pant has emphatically burst into the international scene, and Dhoni is 37, it wasn’t entirely a surprise.
The third if the selectors are phasing him out, as he has long quit Test cricket and then shed captaining the country in shorter versions last year. It’s Dhoni’s recent drought — since the turn of the year he has eked out only 245 runs at 27.22 in 17 matches, besides looking rusty — that infuses all the intrigue into his absence.
Chief selector MSK Prasad, though, played it down, saying Dhoni was not picked so as to give the second keeper an opportunity. “Dhoni is not going to play the six T20s because we are looking at second wicket-keeper. So it will be between Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik and they will get a chance,” explained chief selector MSK Prasad.
In any case, it could prove only beneficial for Dhoni, especially in view of the next World Cup. In plain-speak, there’s no context for him to play T20 matches, other than the IPL. The T20 World Cup is still quite distant and the T20Is against both the West Indies and Australia have a randomness about them, unlike the ODIs, which are important with next year’s World Cup in the rear-view mirror.
As soon as the Australia series gets over, the focus will entirely shift to the 50-over matches, where Dhoni is still considered essential, especially for his leadership skills. Though he is no longer the skipper, he is the first person Kohli’s consults before taking decisions on the field. Often, especially when still-fledgling spinners such as Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are operating, Dhoni is the one who does all the talking, literally sets the field and yell out instructions pertaining to even minute aspects like pulling the length back a little or bowl a tad wider.
The break will also give Dhoni some time to think about his batting, which has, evidently waned, and perhaps work on it. That the two series will coincide with the Ranji season would afford him with a few opportunities to rekindle his form before the three-match ODI series against Australia after the Test series.