Ever since making debut his in 2004, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has carried enormous pressure on his shoulders. He had played under the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Anil Kumble and then took over a team which had a lot to prove.
Dhoni is considered to be the greatest Indian skipper who had led the team in all three formats for over a decade until stepping down Test captain to hand the baton to Virat Kohli. Further, he is widely acclaimed for his big-hitting in the death over while maintaining a cool head on his shoulders. And if this wasn’t enough, he would do the job behind the stumps too with complete fitness. He successfully withstood the immense scrutiny, with a largely emotionless face.
But for a while, MS Dhoni has been struggling in the shorter formats, and his 104-ball half-century against West Indies raised a question mark on the former skipper’s place in Team India. And, this week chief selector MSK Prasad revealed that Dhoni is no more an automatic choice in ODIs and he needs to keep performing to be part of 2019 World Cup in England.
So when Dhoni bids adieu to the Cricket and packs his kit permanently, Indian cricket will be posed with another question: Who will be next Dhoni? Who will fill the big boots of Dhoni? This was the first time when someone mentioned an alternative for MS Dhoni giving fans a reality check of how fast the time flew. After finding Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara as ‘replacements’ of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, finding a perfect substitute for Dhoni won’t be an easy task. MS is someone who can absorb pressure, can keep wickets and more importantly be a game-changer.
So, let’s have a look at the players who can actually replace MS Dhoni in the shorter formats:
For most of his career, Wriddhiman Saha has played under the massive shadow of MS Dhoni and played only when the later was unavailable. He is already 30 which is by no measures a good age for a wicketkeeper to start but is worth a go for the shorter term. While he may not be seen as a long-term replacement for the MSD, he deserves his chance. Saha has been on the sidelines for quite some time now, and deserves to represent India as a front line wicket keeper batsman and must be given a worthy opportunity to prove himself at the highest level. But technically thinking, Team India must be looking for someone who can play for the national team as a regular wicket-keeping batsman for a span of 8-10 years, if not more in limited over cricket. Here all the 30+ age prospects aren’t looking reasonable in the long run since they’ll have to keep wickets and bat till the age of almost 40 years which looks quite a tough ask.
Coming to the younger generation, Rishabh Pant is a stronger bidder for the job. The Delhi lad has already made his international debut as a batsman and is being seen as the future of Indian cricket. Pant was also looked impressive during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2017. It will be interesting to see if the selectors would give him keeping duties or will continue to play him as a special batsman. And having former cricketer Rahul Dravid ‘The Wall’ as the coach — India U-19, Delhi Daredevils, Pant has to improve himself in keeping and batting.
The man with the golden arm. The little dynamite from Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) has the ability to demolish any bowling attack, is also a decent fielder and also has proved to be more than a handy bowler too. However, what people don’t know is that he used to keep wickets in domestic cricket and has done it for both Delhi Daredevils and RCB in IPL. Kedar has cemented his place in the playing XI and Virat Kohli might surprise everyone by everyone by giving him some extra duties.
Sanju Samson, from Kerala, has the potential of making it big under Dravid’s tutelage provided he keeps his off-the-field issues where they belong. Samson has been there for a while and showed signs of brilliance in the Indian Premier League but somehow has failed to take that final step. He has reasonable skills as a wicketkeeper and also has proved to be a better keeper than Pant. But Samson has to convert those starts into big scores if he wants to replace someone like MS Dhoni.
Lokesh Rahul is an excellent prospect. He has already made his Test debut in all formats of cricket. He’s a good enough batsman by now and a reasonable keeper. Rahul has showcased good opening and reasonable wicket-keeping skills in IPL 9. It may be surprising for a few people, but Rahul does have a chance of wearing gloves for India in future. He keeps wickets for RCB in IPL. Now, that Shikhar Dhawan is back in the side, selectors have made it clear that Rahul will bat on No 4 which allows him to take the additional responsibility. After all, it won’t be the first time when a Rahul will keep wickets for India.