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How long can we shy away from installing critical updates on Dhoni and Raina?

by Gaurav Sethi

For way too long, Indian cricket has had this way of investing in the past, blind-eyeing its future. By doing so, it has continued to pay lip service to previous records, the ones we hear season after season, at least in the IPL.

Case in point: Suresh Raina. By now, everyone must know he holds quite a few IPL records, most IPL matches, most IPL runs, most high fives in the IPL, most hugs, most pats.
Excellent. Raina has been one of India's few quintessential Twenty20 cricketers. That rare breed of Indian batsmen who can give it a go before sussing the conditions. While Raina has been more of a mainstay in T2Os for India, it is playing him in the ODI series that was baffling.
Before the first ODI of this series, Raina last played for India in the format in October, 2015. With a dozen or so games before the World Cup, this is the time India should freeze on its squad rather than look through sepia coloured games with a tinge of yellow nostalgia. By doing so, first, it ignored Raina's current season with CSK, which was far from extraordinary. (While the same can be argued for Rohit Sharma with Mumbai Indians, the argument doesn't stand as unlike Rohit, Raina is not an Indian mainstay in the shorter formats)
Playing Raina implied India did not play either Dinesh Karthik or KL Rahul — two of India's most compelling T20 batsmen in recent times. While Karthik missed out on all three T20s and the first two ODIs; Rahul missed out on the last ODI - he scored a 53 ball century in the first T20, followed by 19(10) in the last one.
In the ODIs, in the name of experimentation, Rahul's two ball duck saw him make way for Karthik. Meanwhile Raina, far from a certainty in the World Cup, retained his place.
If this wasn't bizarre enough, India picked Manish Pandey, who had an indifferent IPL season, for the T20s against Ireland. Quick, easy runs to be had against a weak bowling attack — Raina batted at three, Pandey (over Karthik, who had an exceptional IPL season) at seven.
In the second T20 of that series, Karthik was picked. Raina at three again. Pandey at five. Pandya after that. Karthik did not bat.
There are many ways to beat a player's confidence into the dirt. One sure shot way is to not play him, or still worse, play him but not bat him when he's on top of his game.
In case you have forgotten: On March 18, 2018, Dinesh Karthik won a lost final for India — his 8 ball 29 with three 6s and 2 4s clinched a game that was all but gone. He won it with a cover drive for six on the last ball. India needed five off that one ball.
Karthik batted at seven in that Nidahas Twenty20 tri-series final against Bangladesh. Raina at three, Rahul at four, Pandey at five.
While it can be argued that India sees a role of finisher in Dinesh Karthik (but in what format and when?); it's worth questioning, more so in light of the recently lost series, what is MS Dhoni's role in this team?
Dhoni's last two ODI innings haven't been too unfamiliar - he often starts slow, feeling his way round with a few forward prods, a few dots. Those dots are negated with boundaries later, and what we see is a run-a-ball strike rate. By now that is something that has been parroted on air, match after match.
Striking in the early sixties, Dhoni batted approximately 10 overs in each of the lost matches. He also went past 10,000 ODI runs in this series. Before that, he led CSK to a comeback trophy.
It's never easy to nudge a legend on, more so in Indian cricket. This is the land of Tendulkar and Dhoni.
But it also the land of Javagal Srinath. A player who had to wait way too long before a world record was equaled and then eventually broken.
This is the land of KL Rahul and Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant. Their time should come. Sooner rather than later.
It shouldn't come so late, that they themselves become a shadow of their former selves, bitter, insecure, unwilling to let go.

First published here

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