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Dhoni should quit while he’s ahead of the game

Venky Vembu | Updated on August 01, 2019 Published on August 01, 2019

Mahendra Singh Dhoni   -  THE HINDU

I thought you were a Dhoni fan...

Oh, I am, I am.

You even defended him during the recent World Cup.

I did. When he drew flak for his slow batting, and there were calls for him to retire, I argued (See BusinessLine: July 5, 2019) that the criticism of Dhoni on that count was unmerited.

So, why have you forsaken him now?

I haven’t. Even back then, I’d said that I hoped Dhoni would help India lift the World Cup, preferably with a last-over six, and that he would retire immediately afterwards “like the champion sportsman that he is.”

But India didn’t win the World Cup...

True, although Dhoni did redeem himself somewhat in the semi-final against New Zealand.

So why should he retire now?

Because I reckon that his best days as a player are behind him, and that from here on, he runs the risk of squandering the goodwill he’s accumulated. Already, there are reports that he’s been told by the team management that “he is no longer in the scheme of things”. True fans would like him to retire with grace, not face an ignominious exit.

Is he eyeing the ICC T20 World Cup next year?

He probably is looking to go out on a high, but it’s a bad idea, although many Indian cricketers — from Dilip Vengsarkar to Kapil Dev to Krishnamachari Srikkanth to Ravi Shastri to Sachin Tendulkar — lingered on long past their prime.

Is Dhoni’s age a consideration?

Not in itself. But it’s fairly obvious that age has blunted some of his cricketing skills as well as his fitness.

But he isn’t even the oldest cricketer...

He isn’t. English spinner Wilfred Rhodes played Test cricket even at the age of 52, and sportspersons in other fields have played at the international level even into their 60s.

I hear that the “peak age” in sports keeps going up.

Journalist Jeff Bercovici writes in Play On: The new science of elite performance at any age that training and technological advances are pushing pack the peak age for athletes and sportspersons, and that we might see more world champions who are over 40!

So, Dhoni may still have some years of cricket in him!

Sure, perhaps in the ‘Dad’s Army’ team of the Chennai Super Kings, the IPL franchise that has the highest average age on the circuit. But he’s probably taking up space in the national team that a youngster can grow into.

Why do you say that?

In April 2016, after India lost in the semifinal of the T20 World Cup, Dhoni addressed a press conference. Even back then, he faced a question about his retirement, and he responded by playing around with the journalist. Dhoni suggested, only half in jest, that unless the journalist had a son or a brother who could play for the Indian team as a wicketkeeper-batsman, he would play the 2019 World Cup. That’s now come and gone, and there are at least four wicketkeeper-batsmen in the team, some of whom (like Rishabh Pant) need to be groomed for the future.

Off with the ‘thala’, you say?

Not at all. I think Dhoni can contribute to Indian cricket in a variety of ways. A truly envisioned team management would harness his skills as a coach and as a ‘thinker’ who brings great cricketing sense on the field. But that can happen only after Dhoni returns to the pavilion as a player.

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Published on August 01, 2019
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