Need to have a succession plan for Dhoni before it is too late

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MS Dhoni

Bengaluru, February 12: Over No 40: 4 runs. 41: 4. 42: 6. 43: 3. 44: 6. 45: 4. 46: 6. 47: 3. 48: 5. 49: 10 (including 4 leg byes). 50: 12. Total 11 overs: 63 runs - less than 6 an over.

When India began the 40th over of their fourth ODI against South Africa in Johannesburg, they were 226 for four. MS Dhoni and Shreyas Iyer were at the crease and the opportunity was there for them to take India to a bigger total than the eventual 289 they managed.

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At that stage, Dhoni was batting on 10 off 8 balls, including a six. But in that 11 over span all he could score was 32 off the 35 balls he faced, including three fours and in that two came in the 50th over.

Now, you can have countless arguments. A quickened pitch after that brief spell of rain. Improved line and length from SA bowlers. Others like Shreyas Iyer or hard-hitting Hardik Pandya should have exploited the chance than waiting for Dhoni to explode. After all, it's a team game.

But that laborious 43-ball 42 was another example of Dhoni's diminishing hitting prowess. He may still give a 'Dhoni innings' sometime soon but at 36, it's certainly hard for an elite sportsman to scale the heights that he did when he was 28 or 30. Of course, Roger Federer is not included here.

Power has a significant part - the most palpable too - in Dhoni's batting but power is not the only feature of his batting. Dhoni the batsman is equally clever too.

Few other batsmen in one-dayers realise his strong areas and spot a chance to score off bowlers as efficiently as Dhoni. He then blends his immense power into that cunning mind and matchless ability to execute. But since the last couple of seasons, Dhoni's power to accelerate and finish off games are dwindling. Earlier, Dhoni relished that final over shootout with the bowler, he still does but the percentage of favourable results has come down.

Make no mistake, behind the stumps Dhoni is still a big force - he can take some fine catches, can effect some super smart stumpings and often assists skipper Virat Kohli with on field inputs on DRS and strategies in critical junctures for none understands the ebb and flow of limited over cricket better than the Jharkhand man.

More than 400 stumpings in ODIs, close to 10000 runs at over 51 and his contributions as a captain have given Dhoni the liberty to choose his moment to step away. But how do we use Dhoni who is halfway down the peak as a batsman?

Kohli has said that No 4 spot is vacant in the run-up to the 2019 ICC World Cup and can think of having Dhoni there. But then India will have to find someone who can do what Dhoni used to do - give steam to innings in the end stage or finish the games while chasing.

India have options in Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer. Pandey is yet to get a decent run, Shreyas is still raw while Rahane, as per Kohli, is a front-runner for that No 4 slot.

Dhoni is certainly one of the fittest players around but he has certainly entered the final lap of his extraordinary career. If Dhoni decides to walk away - a decision he has taken pretty nonchalantly and quickly in the past - then India will have to find more than one replacement.

MS Dhoni

Wicketkeeper and an intelligent batsman who can adapt to various situations - finisher, enforcer, strike rotator and guide to tailenders. For the stumper's role we have Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel but at 32 they may not be a long term option.

Sanju Samson has not really bloomed after initial promise and he even has veered away from wicketkeeping in the interim. Rishabh Pant is a great talent but the selectors are still not convinced about blooding him at the highest level.

So, do we have a succession plan for Dhoni? It's already too late.

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Story first published: Monday, February 12, 2018, 15:23 [IST]
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