THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: These days almost every press conference after an India match has questions on MS Dhoni and his future in the team. It was no different on Tuesday night in Thiruvananthapuram as Virat Kohli addressed the media post his team’s series-clinching win against New Zealand in the third and final T20I here. Though Dhoni went out to bat at the fag end of Indian innings in a rain-curtailed eight-over contest, he didn’t face a ball. Despite India’s series win, his patchy innings at Rajkot in the second T20I remains the major talking point of the series with former cricketers like VVS Laxman and Ajit Agarkar questioning Dhoni’s role in the T20 setup.
Kohli seemed to have got annoyed by another question on Dhoni and went on to give a mini-speech to the assembled media men. “First, I don’t understand why are people only pointing him out, I’m not able to understand this. If I fail three times, no one is going to point fingers at me because I’m not over 35. The guy is fit, he is passing all the fitness tests, he is contributing to the team in every way possible, tactically on the field, with the bat,” said Kohli. Kohli’s defence looks smart but does it hold much water? First, questions being asked about the indifferent form of an ageing player is not a new thing in sports, let alone cricket. And in a team sport, such questions assume more importance because only that would lead to a passing of the baton to the next generation.
Secondly, Kohli’s answer did seem to suggest that a younger player would have been less scrutinized had he played an innings like Dhoni’s in Rajkot, which incidentally was not a one-off as the former captain has shown his frailties with the bat multiple times over the last couple of years in the shortest format. On the contrary, the over-reverence the Indian cricket fraternity affords to senior players has seen them getting cocooned in the past. On the other hand, the recent example of Manish Pandey not being given a longer run in ODIs after a poor series against Australia suggests youngsters may not have as much room to fail as it has been suggested by Kohli.
Kohli went on to say, “We also have to look at the fact that by the time he comes in, either the run rate is already eight-and-a-half or nine-and-a-half and the wicket is also not the same when the new ball is bowled.” True. But scoring at nine an over is not an exception in T20 cricket. It is the norm. India had the chance bring in Rishabh Pant and more firepower to the middle order towards the end of the last season when he was in red-hot form but chose to maintain the status-quo. Former Indian batsman and coach Anshuman Gaekwad offers a solution to the most hotly-debated topic in Indian cricket at the moment. “Virat is a performance-oriented captain. So he would not have Dhoni on the team if he sees no value in him. And I personally think the solution to the problem, if there is any, is to make Dhoni bat at No. 4 in T20s because he takes time to settle but he can compensate for the slow start later,” Gadded told TOI.