MS Dhoni’s international return seemed highly unlikely after he was left out of the 15-member India T20 squad for the upcoming three-match series against South Africa. The MSK Prasad-led selection committee announced the squad on Thursday, with Rishabh Pant as the sole specialist ‘keeper in the side. According to a BCCI insider, the present selection committee has decided to look beyond the former India captain.
Dhoni decided to take a two-month sabbatical after the World Cup and although the three T20 internationals in September fell into his recluse period, The Indian Express has learnt that the veteran ‘keeper-batsman wasn’t even considered.
“Ahead of the West Indies tour, the selection committee decided give proper opportunities to Pant. Actually, the present selection committee is only looking at Pant, as he is being groomed,” sources told this paper.
Before the West Indies tour, Dhoni had an informal discussion with chief selector Prasad during which the former had left his cricket future at the hands of the selection committee. Prasad, on the other hand, had laid out Indian cricket’s future roadmap. As the Indian team went to West Indies, Dhoni, an honorary Lt Col of the Territorial Army, patrolled the Kashmir valley as part of his training with the with the 106 TA Battalion (Para).
In three T20 internationals during the ongoing Caribbean tour, Pant scored 69 runs including an unbeaten 65. He had an average ODI series though, with just 20 runs in two innings. But the 21-year-old has become India’s first-choice ‘keeper-batsman across formats and as the BCCI insider put it, his grooming process will continue. “Let’s see how it goes.”
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And even if the Pant experiment fails, there’s no guarantee that Dhoni will be brought back to the fold. “There are other wicketkeepers also. The Indian cricket is actually looking beyond MS Dhoni at the moment,” sources said.
The next 50-over World Cup will be played in 2023 and given that Dhoni is 38 years old, it’s very unlikely that he will last till then as a top-flight cricketer. Back-to-back World T20s, however, are lined up in 2020 and 2021 in Australia and India respectively. A Chennai Super Kings official spoke confidently about Dhoni’s availability for the next year’s IPL, but given that he has a mind of his own, it would be interesting to see the ex-skipper’s future course of action. He stunned everybody with the suddenness of his Test retirement in December 2014. A little over two years hence, he also abruptly relinquished his white-ball captaincy.
A new selection committee will come after the BCCI elections, scheduled on October 22. Also, Dhoni hasn’t called time on his limited-overs international career yet. He has lost his attacking mojo, but coming at No. 7, with India reeling on 92/6 in the World Cup semifinal against New Zealand at Old Trafford, Dhoni’s partnership with Ravindra Jadeja kept the team in the game till the penultimate over.
Bands of brothers
Probably for the first time in Indian cricket, two sets of brothers will be in the same India squad, as Hardik Pandya and Krunal, and Deepak Chahar and Rahul (they are cousins) have been picked for the home T20 series. Deepak and Rahul were in the T20 squad against West Indies. Hardik, meanwhile, replaced Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
The three T20 internationals against South Africa will be played in Dharamsala, Mohali and Bangalore on September 15, 18 and 22 respectively.
Squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (w-k), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Krunal Pandya, Washington Sundar, Rahul Chahar, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini.