One sure-shot way to make the news is to have an opinion on MS Dhoni – on how long should he play. Should he play? Why should he play?
"Of course he should play. He is fit, fitter than players younger than him. Have you seen him run between the wickets? Have you seen him keeping wickets? Have you seen him stump?"
"Yes, but have you seen him catch? He drops a catch every other game."Who doesn’t? He’s only human, they’re tough chances, anybody would drop them."
37-year-old comeback kid, Ashish Nehra, has an opinion on this whole Dhoni affair. "By the time it’s time for the 2019 World Cup, Dhoni’s age would be close to 38, but these days age isn’t a factor. Look at Pakistani players like Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. They are still playing international cricket past the age of 40. And as far as Dhoni is concerned, he is fit enough to go on till 2019."
Nehra last played for India on March 31, 2016, so he should know a thing or two about longevity. He just doesn’t know Younis’ age, who at 38, should be still considered under 40.
Then there’s former cricketer and selector, Vikram Rathore: "Dhoni should definitely play on if he wants to. I don’t see any issue with his fitness. He is actually looking fitter than what I have seen earlier. If Nehra can come back at the age of 37, Dhoni can also do it."
What Rathore’s saying is the team is Dhoni’s Then, there’s the bit about Nehra making a comeback, someone plagued with fitness issues throughout his career, and hell, if he can comeback, Dhoni can in his sleep – "hmmm, had a dream, I was playing for India in the 2023 World Cup, think I’m gonna..."
There’s this constant emphasis on fitness, what about ability, what if the skills are on the wane, what if his keeping and batting falters, why isn’t that ever mentioned?
Because Dhoni is still on top of yet another game, calling it before anyone else does.
In the recently-concluded series, he nailed it: "To some extent I am losing my ability to freely rotate in the middle, so I have decided to bat up and let the others finish."
Why doesn’t anyone have the guts to say that as long as he maintains his batting and keeping, his fitness and experience makes him an instant pick in the playing XI.
Or is fitness and experience far more important than his core skills as a cricketer? Why does Indian cricket live in the past of great cricketers to justify the present-day narrative?
Ravi Shastri shares his two-bits: "Dhoni is at par with greats like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar."(Interpreted: Kapil and Tendulkar long overstayed their welcome, why shouldn’t Dhoni?) Shastri continues, "he is the kind of player who won’t be around if he is not able to deliver for India. He has played cricket on his terms and will continue to do so."
Full marks for honesty there, way too many powerful cricketers play on their own terms, for any selection committee to remove them is unthinkable. As we have learnt in the past, it’s far easier to remove an unbiased selector.
Kiran More, fresh from his cameo in the Dhoni biopic says, "Fitness is the key issue when it comes to international cricket."
Of course, not performance but fitness. Because how can you perform if you’re not fit. But if you’re fit, is it natural that you perform?
More continues, "Dhoni does not need to worry about that. His chances of playing till 2019 are very bright. India will need Dhoni, and I am sure he will not walk away just like that."
Virat Kohli walks back after being dismissed. Ranchi celebrates. MS Dhoni walks in to bat. Ranchi celebrates some more. MS Dhoni walks back after being dismissed. Ranchi goes AWOL.
In Ranchi, Dhoni, in at four, completed a somewhat incomplete innings – 11 off 31 deliveries. Previously in Delhi, Dhoni had assembled 39 off 65. Unlike Ranchi, where he hit no boundaries, Delhi featured three fours.
In between, there was Mohali. 80 off 91. Three 6s, six 4s. He wrapped the series with a patient 41 off 59, four 4s, one 6. New Zealand managed only 28 more.
In spite of niggles with rotation, Dhoni is delivering, though with far lesser intuitiveness. Also it doesn’t help that he comes in after Virat Kohli; these days, even a very good batsman will look somewhat inept in such company. What chance, then, does a player not quite at the peak of his powers stand?
The untold story has been told. Is Dhoni now playing from a brilliant memory of himself? Or is he holding on to a last whiff of that immortal perfume that lingers on with the best sportsmen?
Either way, he can do without the platitudes in the press. The narrative is taking place in the middle. It always has, always will.
A player calls it himself. Dhoni is still playing.
fiefdom and if he wants to hang with his boys and play, so be it.