Having won every single multi-national trophy on offer, there’s hardly any CV in cricket better than MS Dhoni‘s in the world.
India’s most successful captain, and the most successful leader in world cricket currently, is just 32 years of age. At a time when his seniors have played on till the end of thirties, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Dhoni has a good 6-7 years of cricket left in him.
Dhoni is not a man known for planning for far ahead. His plans are in place only till the next over, the next match, and the next series. After that, it’s hard to say where Dhoni may end a couple of years down the line.
In 2011, he created a furore by hinting at his retirement from Test cricket two years down the line. On being asked about defending the World Cup 2015, he said,
“It is series by series. If you see 2015, you know, still three, three and a half years to go. I don’t really know where I will stand. Everything needs to go off well, and then by close to 2013, I will have to take a call whether I can really 100% be available for the 2015 World Cup, because you don’t want a wicketkeeper in the side who has not played at least 100-odd games, at least close to 80-100 games, going into the World Cup.”
2013 is more than half-way done and Dhoni is looking unstoppable in his current form. With series against South Africa (possibly), New Zealand, England and Australia lined up away from home, it’s extremely unlikely that there’s any question over Dhoni’s future in Test cricket.
In Tests, Cheteshwar Pujara has started finding his place in the team and will need a couple of more seasons to really step up to the mantle which seems to have been marked for him. In limited overs, Virat Kohli has created his own legacy of sorts, but at the helm, he’s only just begun.
Dhoni definitely has the 2015 World Cup in his mind. It’s a line which would be crossed under Dhoni’s leadership, but on the other end, a new face is bound to emerge, possibly two or three if India is open to the concept of multiple captains in the future.
So, in this period of 5-6 years, what does Dhoni have in mind for the Indian team of the future? What more can he give to Indian cricket before his departure and what can inspire him enough to carry on playing post the 2015 World Cup?
A list of speculations does have its drawbacks. After all, it’s full of speculations. But these are 5 things that can keep Dhoni on his feet and provide the push to the inspirational captain:
5. Improve overseas Test record
Dhoni provided India the coveted World Cup, and twice at that, but in Test cricket, he failed to inspire the same success which his predecessors did.
Yes, India did become the No. 1 Test side, but the only tours outside the subcontinent under Dhoni’s reign in that period were to New Zealand and West Indies, both won 1-0.
The team which toured South Africa in 2010/11 was the last strong Indian Test side which played outside the subcontinent. Post that, it’s been a steep decline in India’s Test form overseas.
Under Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, there were inspirational victories in England, South Africa, Australia and West Indies. Under Dhoni, there was the ’0-8′. It remains a frontier which the man from Ranchi hasn’t conquered yet.
Even Dhoni’s Test form, before the 224 against Australia was questioned openly.
Dhoni’s place is permanent in Indian cricket history, but for him to surpass the legacy of the likes of Ganguly and Dravid, when it comes to leadership, he has to win in England, in Australia and in South Africa comprehensively.
4. Grooming a successor
Virat Kohli has been Dhoni’s understudy for quite some time now and though the team led by the Delhi lad won against Zimbabwe 5-0, Kohli is nowhere close to being the finished product he has the potential to be as a leader.
His temperament is still questionable and Dhoni’s lessons to Virat will decide how India’s next captain shapes up to the challenge of being the most scrutinised cricketer, past or present, in India after Sachin Tendulkar.
Cheteshwar Pujara has been marked as the future leader for India in whites and though Kohli’s future isn’t under doubt in India’s Test team, Pujara fulfills the requirements to the T if India are looking at the option of multiple captains for different formats.
Throw in Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma in the mix and Dhoni has the responsibility to find the ideal person for the job. The prospects of Raina and Sharma decrease when considering that neither is a certainty in all forms of the game.
3. Focus on his batting
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is currently India’s best batsman, at least in the limited overs format. And it’s an opportunity wasted at No. 7 in the batting order.
Quoting him again from the same interview,
“…I will have to take a call whether I can really 100% be available for the 2015 World Cup, because you don’t want a wicketkeeper in the side who has not played at least 100-odd games, at least close to 80-100 games, going into the World Cup.”
MS Dhoni can’t be expected to keep wickets, be the pillar in the batting order and lead India in all the formats come 2015.
The easiest job for Dhoni to leave, is his wicket-keeping. Dinesh Karthik, Parthiv Patel, Wriddhiman Saha and even Manvinder Bisla have tasted success in domestic cricket in various forms of cricket, but Dhoni’s multi-tasking has kept them out of the side.
It’s high time Dhoni relinquishes his wicket-keeping gloves in Tests and T20s and get that much needed breather. In ODIs, Dhoni’s place behind the stumps remains crucial for his chakravyuh to work in the most unlikeliest of scenarios and it’s important for him to retain that role.
With the added pressure of wicket-keeping reduced, someone like Dhoni at No. 5 or even No. 4, if I may be so bold, can provide him ample time to play his masterpiece innings more frequently – consolidate patiently and bring down the fires of hell in the finishing overs on the bowlers.
2. Winning back fans’ trust
To be honest, this is not Dhoni’s job. But irrespective of whether it’s his problem to tackle or not, it’ll play a big hand in how respected his legacy is (though it’s highly doubtful someone like Dhoni gives an iota of thought to what his image is in the media and fans).
Dhoni’s association with CSK, the most successful Indian T20 franchise so far, has dragged his name too into the mud. His closeness with N Srinivasan hasn’t been one of the most profitable in earning him a clean chit amidst all the mess surrounding domestic T20 leagues.
But that’s where Dhoni can be more than just a successful leader. He can be a motivator who inspires a clear thinking on the part of youngsters, and pushes them to rise above petty and small-term gains.
Indian cricket, with all its success, isn’t the most respected one for its ethical codes and financial transparency. The least Dhoni’s team can do is become cricketers who not just win the matches for the team, but do it without giving it a bad name.
Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble are highly respectable names in world cricket. MS Dhoni and his team has earned accolades many a times, but earning respect will be a major challenge for the Indian skipper.
1. 2015 World Cup
Indians are in the game to be global leaders in cricket and nothing less, and it’ll be the ultimate prize for that domination.
The 2011 squad had Sachin Tendulkar and veterans like Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, the finished products of the Ganguly era. It was not a team made by Dhoni by any stretch of imagination.
But without a doubt, the 2015 one will be. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, are all men who have earned success under the leadership of MS Dhoni.
Though Dhoni left his stamp in 2011 with that memorable six over long-on, irrespective of who provides the finishing touches for India on 29th March, 2015 in Melbourne, it’ll be Dhoni’s World Cup without a doubt.
The planning has commenced already with a plethora of A-tours and U19 series being planned left, right and centre. Such frenzy involving so many domestic Indian cricketers hasn’t been witnessed in some time and the race to feature in the plans for 2015 is on.
If achieved, this will be the crowning jewel in Dhoni’s enormous list of successes.