A couple of months back when one of the most respected voices in India and world cricket - Rahul Dravid - expressed his views about the ageing warhorses of Indian cricket (Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh), the world stopped to take notice. Dravid urged the Indian selectors to take a call regarding the future of the duo who has scripted numerous victories for the Men in Blue in almost every corner of the world. Keeping an eye on the 2019 World Cup, Dravid's suggestions clearly made sense if we see that both these stalwarts who served Indian cricket in the past decade have went past their prime.
The final of the Champions Trophy 2017 against Pakistan also further exposed the fading abilities of the two of the biggest match-winners for India in the limited-overs format. However, not many questioned Yuvraj’s name which came under the scanner after a string of ordinary performances but many raised eyebrows when Dhoni’s name appeared on that list.
Touted as one the best finishers in world cricket – Dhoni is one such name who has scaled insurmountable heights in Indian cricket. From becoming the only captain in history to win all three ICC Trophies (2007 T20 WC, 2011 World Cup, 2013 Champions Trophy), Dhoni has achieved the unthinkable many-a-times and has provided India with those finishing touches with his cool and calm approach in high-pressure situations.
Cut to the West Indies tour, where India played five one-dayers and a one-off T20 international – Dhoni once again struggled to live up to the expectations which always go sky-high from the moment he steps on to the cricket field. He managed to score only 156 runs on the Caribbean tour. The former skipper was highly criticized for his 114-ball 54 vs Windies at North Sound, which came on a losing cause. It was the slowest by any India batsman in ODIs since 2001. Interestingly, it was also Dhoni's slowest fifty, he beat his previous record of 88 ball half-century against Pakistan at Eden Gardens in 2013.
Despite criticism from all the corners, the 36-year always had the backing of skipper Virat Kohli who believed that Dhoni still had it in him to play cricket at the highest level. Dhoni stepped down from the limited-overs captaincy earlier this year handing over the reigns of Team India to Kohli in all three formats. With age catching up and those sharp reflexes taking a hit, continuous performances are the sole criteria left for Dhoni to maintain his spot in the India's playing eleven.
Chief selector MSK Prasad also made a bold statement ahead of the Sri Lanka ODI series about Dhoni's future. A day after announcing the squad, Prasad said Dhoni is not an automatic selection in ODIs anymore. He added, "If he is delivering, why not? If he is not, we will have to look at alternatives."
But unlike Prasad, Kohli believes a string of limited overs matches in the next three months will enable the former skipper to get his mojo back in his beloved format. Kohli also feels it is important for Dhoni to play more and more limited-overs cricket as this will help him to get consistent in the longer run.
In the second ODI against Sri Lanka on Thursday at Pallekele, the 36-year-old once again came to the crease in a tough situation with visitors stuttering at 131/7 in their rain-revised chase of 231 in 47 overs. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar at the other end, Dhoni once again brought his bank of experience into foray and successfully snatched the victory from the jaws of defeat. His valuable 45-run knock was worth more than a century as it led India to a memorable three-wicket victory.
This was after unheralded mystery spinner Akila Dananjaya (6/48 in 9 overs) rattled the Indian batsman. India were reduced to 131/7 when Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar joined forces. Dhoni, whose finishing skills have been put to test in recent times, showed that experience worth its weight in gold as he tapped around for singles and doubles.
He mentored Bhuvneshwar (53 not out) from the other end and the duo added unbroken stand of 100 runs for the eighth wicket to reach target in 44.2 overs under Duckworth-Lewis method. With this win, India took a 2-0 lead in the five-match series.
This was not the first or the last time Dhoni has played such an innings for Team India, but his latest effort has certainly answered those critics who have continuously pointed their fingers towards his place in the playing XI.