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Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting has come out in defence of India cricketer MS Dhoni, who has been facing a lot of flak from all corners owing to his inconsistent run with the bat. Ponting also mentioned that the 35-year-old wicketkeeper batsman could play a big role in India's Champions Trophy defence.
“I think it's a downside of having the great success that he's had over a long period of time,” Ponting told cricket.com.au. “I've been there myself and when you start to slide just a little bit, criticism is going to come your way.”
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The former India captain has blown hot and blown cold so far in the IPL, garnering 173 runs from 9 matches for the Rising Pune Supergiant at a strike rate of 120.97 with one fifty to his name. While that fifty came in a match-winning cause against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, Dhoni hasn't been able to replicate the impact equal to the magnanimity of his 34-ball 61 against SRH.
His scores of 23 off 11 and 21 off 17 against the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Royal Challengers Bangalore in his most recent two innings have bordered on mediocrity, one could say. Hence the criticism from all corners has flocked his way.
Ponting, who himself experienced a similar slump in form towards the latter stages of his career, divulged that with the consistency that a champion like Dhoni has maintained for the better part of the past decade, such minor blips in form are natural.
“And to be fair, he probably hasn't had much negativity come his way over the past 15 or 20 years. So it'll be really interesting to see how he handles that over the coming weeks.
“Things can turn around in this game pretty quickly and one thing I've learned in this game with champion players is to never write them off. They always find a way to keep coming back.”
Citing the examples of fellow Australian legends like Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, Ponting, who is Australia's all-time leading run-scorer in Tests and ODIs, said that Dhoni would find a way to win games for his team.
“It happened with (Glenn) McGrath and (Shane) Warne and all those great players that I was lucky enough to play with. He'll find a way and he'll win games for his team.”
Dhoni has been a seasoned cricketer and has made it his habit of going through pressure situations, be it finishing off games in the last over or handling the media off the field in case the team didn't perform.
Speaking of this attribute of the Indian, Ponting remarked, “I'm pretty sure he's got quite a thick skin. He's grown up with unbelievable pressure on him as captain of India for a long time.
“He's had some great moments in his career and right now he's probably not playing at his absolute best, but it's still there.”
Ponting expressed his astonishment at the way Dhoni was replaced by his fellow Australian Steve Smith as the captain of the Rising Pune Supergiant, and while he admitted that the veteran could be considering an end to his career, he didn't flinch from maintaining that he could continue until the 2019 World Cup in the UK.
“I'm not ever going to tell anyone when it's time to go or retire. That's up to the champions to make their own mind up. If you think about Dhoni and his age, this might well be his last IPL.
“There's no basis to me saying that. It just seemed like a strange time to move him on as captain if he wasn't coming towards the end.
“Obviously, they've made a decision that they think is right for that team and Steve Smith taking over was what the hierarchy and the coaching staff thought was the right thing to do.”
Post the IPL, Dhoni's next assignment would be the Champions Trophy that begins from June 1 and the wicketkeeper-batsman is expected to bat at No. 4, now that India have finally decided to give in to Dhoni's wishes to bat up the order.
“I think he can be an important player in that Indian team, especially with his experience,” Ponting said.
“Batting in the middle order, he's someone who can really control a one-day innings. And that might be what you need in England. If the ball does a bit early on, there's a chance India could lose top-order wickets and you'd need someone in the middle order to guide the ship.”
An experienced player like Dhoni must be respected for whatever he has contributed to Indian cricket and to the sport at large, and while the current IPL form might not be very great, let us not forget the way he batted in the previous ODI series that India played, against England in January.
That India aren't playing any ODI cricket until the Champions Trophy defence begins, Dhoni's form might be a reason for concern. However, in his last three innings, he has shown that he is getting back into his groove.
It must also be kept in mind that Dhoni was made to bat at No. 6 in the initial stages of the IPL this season, and since his promotion to his preferred No. 4 spot Dhoni has played a match-winning innings, and although hasn't followed it with similar knocks, he has scored quick runs towards the death and looks to be regaining his touch.
Therefore, as fans and followers of the game, we must remain patient and trust the experienced cricketer to attain his peak during the later stages of the league.