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Dhoni Future Shrouded in Doubt as Selectors Look to ‘Groom’ Pant as First Choice Keeper

Cricketnext Staff |July 21, 2019, 3:53 PM IST
Dhoni Future Shrouded in Doubt as Selectors Look to ‘Groom’ Pant as First Choice Keeper

MS Dhoni’s international future remains shrouded in doubt after Chairman of Selectors MSK Prasad hinted that while he was part of the “plans” till the World Cup, the panel was keen to give Rishabh Pant “as many opportunities” as possible going forward. The 38-year old Dhoni had made himself unavailable for the tour to the West Indies to serve his paramilitary regiment for two months and has given no clarity on whether and for how long he intends to keep playing international cricket.

21-year old Pant, who had been left out of the original World Cup squad, only to be drafted in when Shikhar Dhawan was ruled out due to injury, has been named in all three squads for the tour. Prasad made it clear at the press conference that he will be the first choice Wicket-Keeper though he refused to speculate on whether Dhoni would be hanging up his boots, saying that was an “individual” decision.

“He's (MS Dhoni) unavailable for this series but we had certain roadmaps and plans till World Cup,” Prasad said. “Subsequently, we've laid down few more plans and thought of giving as many opportunities to (Rishabh) Pant and to see that he is groomed. This is our plan right now.

"Retirement is purely individual. A legendary cricketer like MS Dhoni, he knows when to retire. But as far as the future roadmap is considered, that is in the hands of the selectors."

There has been speculation about Dhoni’s future since India’s exit from the World Cup semi-final. Dhoni was held back after India’s chase and came in to bat with India tottering at 71 for 5, chasing 240. Dhoni was dismissed for 50 in the penultimate over by a spectacular run out from the deep by Martin Guptill. The 2011 World Cup winning captain came in for criticism for his slow approach during the tournament, especially against spin bowling and though Prasad refrained from commenting on that aspect, he was clear that “grooming youngsters” was their primary objective now, and that Pant has their vote of confidence across formats now.

"First of all, we don't have to discuss about it (strike rate in World Cup). Secondly, we are grooming youngsters now," Prasad said. "Rishabh Pant has not done anything wrong for his non-inclusion in the squads. Rishabh Pant is going to play all three formats. So, we need to manage his workload. So Wriddhiman Saha and KS Bharat will come into the picture."

The 25-year-old Bharat, who missed out on the Test squad to Saha, has played 11 unofficial Tests against the ‘A’ teams of West Indies, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and England Lions, scored 686 runs with three centuries and two half-centuries, held 41 catches and effected six stumpings and Prasad confirmed he had risen in the pecking order to come very close to a national call-up.

“It is a norm that when a senior or established player makes a comeback from injury, he is given a chance in the team,” Prasad explained. “So that’s how we have given a comeback opportunity to Wriddhiman Saha. But, I can tell with the stellar performances that KS Bharat has been doing in India A - he has scored three centuries and taken almost 50 dismissals - he was very close to making the cut.”

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