Sometimes you wonder if MS Dhoni just sits in his bat cave and lets out an evil smile watching fans discuss his future based on precious little information. If there is a cryptic throwaway line at a promotional event one day, there is the selectors writing him off on another day. If there is an interviewer quoting him from an off-the-record chat one day, it is the BCCI dropping him from the central contracts list another day.
This removal – from earning INR 5 crore a year to nothing – led to fresh speculation around Dhoni’s playing future, making “#ThankYouDhoni” and “#MSDhoni” trend on Twitter in India. As if to tease them a little more, he trained with the Jharkhand Ranji Trophy team the same day in Ranchi. Expectedly, it was news that Dhoni was formally denied a retainer with the BCCI, but it really doesn’t change where Dhoni stands vis-à-vis Indian cricket.
Coach Ravi Shastri’s explanation in two interviews is as clear as it gets: Dhoni is done with Tests and ODIs, he is taking a well-earned break from competitive cricket, and if he does well in the IPL and feels he is fit enough to not be a burden on the Indian team, he can put his hat in the ring for the T20 World Cup in Australia in October. There are two filters here: Dhoni’s internal one, and then the selectors and team management. Nothing about that changes with his name dropping out of the contracts list.
In fact – apart from missing communication to the fans – this is the best way the BCCI could have handled the situation. MSK Prasad, chairman of selectors, has maintained his committee has been looking beyond Dhoni post the World Cup. Nor has Dhoni forced them to look at him by playing domestic cricket. In these circumstances, it would actually have been controversial if Dhoni had indeed been given a contract, which is based on players’ performance in the last year and the role they are expected to play in the coming year.
“In these circumstances, it would actually have been controversial if Dhoni had indeed been given a contract, which is based on players’ performance in the last year and the role they are expected to play in the coming year.”
The “year” for these purposes starts in October and ends in September. So even if Dhoni were to turn up straight for the World Cup, that will only have an impact on next year’s contracts. However, if India do intend to pick Dhoni – and they value the experience, the match awareness, the on-field assistance he brings to the captain – for the World Cup, they might try him out in the Asia Cup before that. And if he does play there, he will get a contract just like how a debutant gets one.
From Dhoni’s side, there hasn’t been any suggestive interview or press conference or a planted story about any special training. Of course there is a question of what impact his shadow has on the youngsters trying to fill his boots. Would crowds still be chanting Dhoni’s name at every keeping mistake and putting their own keeper Rishabh Pant under pressure if Dhoni had retired or made a public statement about his intent of deciding on his future after the IPL? From having been misunderstood early on in his career, Dhoni has learnt that silence is golden. When forced to speak, he has taken the piss with non-committal, self-contradictory statements so you can’t pin him down to one particular stance.
From whatever coach Shastri, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and captain Virat Kohli have said on the record, this situation has been handled in a mature way. The team is preparing for the World Cup without keeping Dhoni in mind. If Dhoni has a great IPL, he makes himself available for selection and does so by fulfilling the criteria of having played competitive domestic cricket. It is up to the team management and the selectors then to decide if Pant or KL Rahul or Sanju Samson has already sealed that position. It will not be an easy decision, mind, knowing what high regard the team management holds Dhoni in. All you need is a selection committee that doesn’t get swayed by the weight of the name or the team management.
(Not) knowing Dhoni, though, he might just go ahead and make an announcement the moment you begin to fully understand this situation.