New Delhi: Fitter and faster than players 10 years his junior, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is irreplaceable in the Indian ODI team right now, feels national coach Ravi Shastri, who says critics should perhaps analyse their own careers at 36 before finding faults in the former captain.
Dhoni's form with the bat has been heavily scrutinised in the recent past with every failure being looked upon as an ominous sign. However, the talismanic keeper-batsman did well in the
just-concluded limited overs series against Sri Lanka to silence some of the criticism.
"We are not stupid. I have been watching this sport for the last 30-40 years. Virat has been a part of this team for a decade now. We know, at this age, he (Dhoni) can beat players aged 26. People who talk, forget that they played the game," Shastri told 'India Today'.
Dhoni's sharp reflexes behind the stumps are still unmatched and chief selector MSK Prasad made it clear that none of the younger guys have quite yet matched upto the game-changer, under whose leadership India won an unprecedented two World Cups.
The sentiment was echoed by Shastri, who has been vocal in defending Dhoni in the past as well.
"If they look at themselves in the mirror and ask the question, 'what they were at the age of 36?'. Would they have run two runs faster? But the time they finish two, this guy will run three. Then he has won only two World Cups and averages only 51. Till today you don't have a wicket-keeper to replace him in the one-day team," he asserted.
Shastri said Dhoni's skill set is not easy to find and it would be long before a replacement comes along.
"He is still one of the best around, not only in the Indian team, but in the world. Some of the things you see with him are not sold in the market. You will not get it anywhere else," he said.
"The fact that he does not play Test cricket, means he should be playing as much cricket as possible till the World Cup in 2019," he added.
Shastri also spoke about the upcoming tour of South Africa, which starts with a three-match Test series from January 5.
The team is scheduled to depart on December 27 and would be aiming to secure its first Test series triumph on the South African soil.
"For us all opposition is the same, all oppositions have to be respected and every game is a home match. And as it turned out that next we are in South Africa. Where South Africa is different is that we haven't won a series in South Africa," he said.
"Therein lies a massive opportunity for the team to do something special. The belief is there. We are going there and we will treat South Africa like we treat any other opposition we have played against. There will be respect but we will go there to win," he added.
Shastri heaped praise on current skipper Virat Kohli, who took a break from the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka after a massively successful year with the bat.
"The great thing about Virat is his work ethic, his realisation of what kind of player he can become and what he it takes to become that player... And it has become part of his lifestyle.
"What happens is, that when you have a captain in that frame of mind, wanting to achieve things others can only dream of. Then it rubs off on other players. Others want to emulate him. He wants to raise the bar for himself and he doesn't want any room for excuses," said Shastri.
The Indian team is signing off the year with 37 wins across all formats and Shastri said it has a lot to do with the cohesion in the dressing room.
"The most important thing about the team is that this is a team and not an individual. The word 'I' can be thrown out of the window. It is always we. Individuals can stay at home if they are not part of the team culture. No matter how big the individual. That is the difference with this team," he said.