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By Prabir Biswas

It must have been a shocker for millions of fans of former India World Cup winning captain MS Dhoni, fondly called as “MSD” or “Mahi” when the Indian cricket board dropped him from their latest annual contract list for the October 2019 to September 2020 period. Speculations about his comeback or retirement have been rife ever since he has kept himself away from international cricket after India’s abject dismissal from the semi-final stage of the World Cup 2019.

Questions would definitely be asked when a senior player and former captain who was always in the top category of contracted players is nowhere in the list. After all, MS Dhoni is the only international captain to have won the 50 overs and the 20 overs World Cup. He also led India to the title in the 2013 Champions Trophy. This is the first time that he is not on the list. The belief that Mahi can’t be sidelined has been shattered. Dhoni may not be down and out but the psychological impact of the decision is immense.

Dhoni had faced a similar situation but only in IPL when Australian player Steve Smith became the skipper of the Pune franchise replacing him. But the ignominy for Dhoni did not last long as the next year when Chennai Super Kings came out of the IPL suspension, he once again took up the mantle of the franchise.

It is being said in cricket circles that the decision to remove Dhoni from the contract list was arrived at after a detailed discussion that involved the top cream of the cricket board. Even former BCCI president and an ardent Dhoni supporter, N Srinivasan, was present in that meeting. Did Srinivasan not object or was his objection overruled? No concrete answers yet, but if that is the case, the influence of once the czar of Indian cricket in selection matters is fading considerably.

Sources say that BCCI president and secretary felt that Dhoni could always be included in the contract list once he starts playing. So till then he is out of the list.

His fans are anxious. Is it the beginning of the end for another great player of India cricket? Confusion remains as Dhoni was seen practising with the Jharkhand Ranji Trophy squad the same day he was thrown out of the contract list.

There could be several reasons for this development. Dhoni has been out of the game for close to seven months now and there has been no clear indication from him when he is ready to wear the India cap. There has been no clarity from India coach Ravi Shastri and BCCI president Sourav Ganguly on what the selection committee or BCCI thinks about Dhoni’s future. They have been rather non-committal. Dhoni has not been considered for any of the international games in the recent future and it is again in the realm of speculation whether he will be considered for the T20 World Cup later this year.

Only players available for selection are categorised into grades. And if Dhoni is a contracted player, he has to play unless of course he is injured. Dhoni did face an injury during the World Cup in England but he did not report to the National Cricket Academy for recovery or rehab as is the rule. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly had made it amply clear last month that injured players will have to report to the Academy.

The legendary wicket-keeper batsman has already hanged his boots in Test cricket and the next World Cup in the 50-over format is too far to plan his inclusion. Age too is catching up with Dhoni and his reflexes and hitting ability are well past his prime. That midas touch with the bat and his image as a “finisher of the game” has taken a beating. It was more than evident during the last World Cup in England.

Haiving said that, the next IPL will be a testing ground for Dhoni. He will have to redeem his pride like what Ganguly did during the fag end of his career. With “Mission Pant” failing for the Indian team, and not much promise from KL Rahul (although he did perform well behind wickets and with the bat in the second ODI against the Australians at Rajkot) and Sanju Samson behind the stumps India needs a specialist wicket-keeper and Dhoni may come back in the faster format of the game.

His fans feel that he will do that with a sterling performance in the IPL. As of now, the 38-year-old is bidding his time and watching how things pan out for the Indian team. As always “Captain Cool” has that miraculous ace up his sleeve which he will reveal at the right time.

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