MS Dhoni Likely to Have Played his Last Game for India, But Who Knows?

This is what MS Dhoni had said when asked about his retirement plans in November last year. It’s January now, and while there’s still no clarity on his future, there was another development related to the same in the form of BCCI player contracts. The former India captain found no place in the list, giving rise to a number of questions – yet again – about his future.

Not surprisingly, rumours of his retirement didn’t take too long to surface once again. #ThankYouDhoni started trending on twitter soon after BCCI’s announcement, with a section of fans already paying tribute to the legendary career. And yet, more mixed signals were sent when Dhoni trained with the Jharkhand side almost immediately after the announcement.

Dhoni’s abscene from the contract list does not mean he cannot play another match for India. Dhoni has not played a match from September 2019 (the starting period for the current contract list), and will be automatically re-inducted on a pro-rata basis in case he plays again. The T20 World Cup, in fact, begins in October, after the current contract term ends.

Yet, it’s also fairly obvious for anyone who has followed the saga that the likelihood of Dhoni playing for India again is very remote. Why then, is he not announcing the same? Well, it’s his choice, as it is of the selectors to not pick him.

The more than likely scenario, though, is that Dhoni, the board and the team management are in agreement that he will only be a back up in case of a worst case scenario. A situation where Rishabh Pant goes completely out of form and confidence. And if the team is not convinced about other options.

Nothing stops a player from returning even after announcing retirement officially, but there’s no harm in Dhoni remaining available just in case India need his experience. The middle order is a constant area of work for India, especially with someone like Hardik Pandya struggling with a back injury. It’s no guarantee that Hardik will be the player he was, and India seem to want the insurance of Dhoni in case all other options don’t work. Whether the current version of Dhoni, especially without much match practise, is the best man for the job is a debate but India bank on his experience to overcome those issues.

As Ravi Shastri pointed out, in case he has a very good IPL, India will want to have him around ‘just in case’.

Chances, though, are very slim. Pant is yet to have a big knock but played a couple of decent cameos in the T20Is against West Indies. KL Rahul is a wicketkeeping option too, growing in confidence with the bat every time he plays T20Is.

India also have Sanju Samson, but it’s hard to see him fit in the middle order at numbers 5 and 6. He’s had much of his success at the top order, a space that’s very unlikely to open up for him in the Indian team. For some reason, India seem to have moved on from Dinesh Karthik too, although he has done little wrong in T20 cricket. Thus, Dhoni’s ‘competitors’ are practically down to two players – Pant and Rahul.

While the fans suffer for lack of transparency, the team management, selectors and BCCI president Sourav Ganguly have often emphasised that they’re ‘on the same page’ as Dhoni. The message is that Dhoni would never impose himself on the team. They trust him to time his exits well, as he has in the past. He left Test cricket and handed reigns to Kohli at a time when there were plenty of Tests in the subcontinent, allowing him to settle into the role before the tougher tours.

He left ODI captaincy a couple of years before the World Cup 2019 too, once again allowing Kohli to settle into the role. In all likelihood, he has played his last ODI as well, and there can’t be too many complaints about that timing.

The current scenario works well for both parties. Dhoni can test his form and fitness at the IPL with Chennai Super Kings, where he is the undisputed leader, and be around in case India need him. Reports suggest Dhoni will play for CSK next year too.

But a lot of things have to fall in place for Dhoni to play another game in India colours.

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