Amidst all the win and history-making moments, MS Dhoni’s struggle to finish the innings strongly has taken the back seat. India’s top-order has been in such good form that the fragile middle-order is still not facing the criticism. But, in the long run it is only going to affect the national team.
In the last one year or so, India have done exceedingly well in the limited-overs format. However, their middle-order has looked far from being impressive. Even on Sunday (February 18), the middle-order failed to get going in the first T20I against South Africa. India’s top-order had once again given the team another good start. As a result, the Men in Blue were looking well set to post in excess of 200 after racing away to 157 for 3 inside 15 overs.
The onus was on Dhoni to guide the team to a strong finish. However, the 36-year old once again failed to deliver on the expected lines. He started brightly by hitting two fours but could manage only 16 off 11. As a result, India collected just 46 runs off the last 5 overs to post 203. The score, however, turned out to be more than enough in the end. The hosts could manage to score only 175 for 9.
But Dhoni’s struggles with the bat once again highlighted the fact that the team-management needs to take a bold call for the betterment of the T20 side. Dhoni’s failure to play aggressively when the situation demands is nothing new. Not very long ago, the likes of VVS Laxman and Aakash Chopra had opined that Dhoni should quit the shortest format of the game.
Dhoni is nowhere close to be done in the ODIs — his showings against Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand last year make it clear that he still has a lot to offer. Moreover, the format also allows him to consume more balls which lets him settle down. His inputs to the team also make him a valuable part.
However, in T20Is, he looks like a burden at the time being. Looking at his overall T20I record, it wouldn’t be an understatement if one say that it is far from being impressive. Over the 11 years, Dhoni has managed to amass only 1380 runs in 87 games. But more than the runs, what makes him ineffective in this format is his lowly strike-rate. The India stalwart comes to bat towards the end and is needed to go for the kill right from the word go. However, a strike-rate of a shade over 125 clearly tells the story.
Replacement is the need of the hour:
So with Dhoni’s finishing abilities on a decline, India desperately needs to look out for replacements. Dhoni’s ability to hit boundaries and maintain a good strike rate have taken a beating in the last few years.
But while there is no denying the fact that Dhoni is one of the biggest legends of the game, the recent evidence points to his inability to keep pace with the batting demands of the T20 game. And one man who can be entrusted with the job of replacing Dhoni is Rishabh Pant.
Earmarked by many for huge success in future, Pant first made his presence felt with his stunning performance in the last edition of the Ranji Trophy. The 19-year old grabbed the attention when he scored a belligerent 308 off 326 balls against Maharashtra before following it up with a 48-ball hundred against Jharkhand which is one of the fastest first-class centuries by an Indian. He finished Ranji Trophy as its fourth-highest run-getter with 972 runs in only 8 outings including four centuries and a couple of the fifties.
His performance saw him earning his maiden Team India call for the T20I series against England. He did well in the Indian Premier League but was not included in the squad for the Champions Trophy. However, he was recalled in the team for the T20I series against West Indies and could play only one match before being dropped. Since then, he has failed to impress for India A or in the Duleep Trophy. It was followed by a dismal showing in the Ranji Trophy.
Strong showing in T20s:
The Delhi youngster roared back to form in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He finished the tournament as the second highest run-scorer, amassing 411 runs in just 10 matches including the 32-ball century against Himachal Pradesh. The runs came at an unbelievable strike-rate of over 195 and an average of over 45.
Well, Pant has made his presence felt and it is now up to the selectors to show faith in him by taking a bold call. The move might now pay off immediately but in the long run, it can give India an apt replacement for the legendary wicketkeeper and bring an end to the middle-order woes.