Former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s illustrious career is nearing its end, but his cryptic comments and long absences from the pitch have kept fans guessing how he plans to walk away.
The 38-year-old warhorse serves as an honorary lieutenant colonel in his army reserve regiment and spent part of last year in strife-torn Kashmir — missing an ODI tour of the West Indies.
He has now not appeared for club or country in more than six months, since New Zealand beat India in the World Cup semi-final, and he was left out of the three-match one-day international series against Australia which began on Tuesday.
Dhoni hinted late last year he would not reveal his plans until this month, but that hasn’t stopped constant questions about his sabbatical at team press conferences.
With India’s demanding fanbase setting their sights on a Twenty20 World Cup win in Australia later this year, speculation over Dhoni’s participation has whipped up feverish discussion.
“The question that needs to be asked is of MSD himself,” said batting great Sunil Gavaskar last weekend, suggesting that the wicketkeeper-batsman’s long absence had already settled the matter.
“Does anybody keep himself away from playing for India for that long? That is the question and therein lies the answer.”
Dhoni quit Test cricket in 2014 and national coach Ravi Shastri said he would likely soon quit one-day internationals, but his imminent return to the Indian Premier League with the Chennai Super Kings could mean his international swansong is yet to come.
“I have had a conversation with MS and that is between us… in all probability, he will finish one-day cricket,” Shastri told Indian television.
“At his age, probably the only format he’ll want to play is T20 cricket which means he’ll have to start playing again, get back into the groove because he’s going to play in the IPL and see how his body reacts.”
– ‘Feels like a break-up’ –
For cricket-obsessed India, Dhoni’s international retirement will be a moment to rival the departure of batting icon Sachin Tendulkar, who was similarly coy about his plans in the lead-up to his farewell Test in 2013.
Shastri recently sent Indian social media users abuzz after saying that the constant speculation about Dhoni’s retirement “feels like a break-up… you know it’s coming and it’s imminent but just don’t want to face (it)”.
In the cricketer’s absence, Indian selectors have backed new talent such as Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson for the wicketkeeper-batsman’s role in T20. Both have yet to convince.
Dhoni led India to the inaugural T20 world title in 2007. He hit a six to seal the 2011 World Cup final victory and his status as a national hero.
He has amassed 10,773 runs from 350 ODIs, but his form dipped noticeably at last year’s World Cup.
Stellar performances from the likes of Kohli, who passed 11,000 runs while India captain against Sri Lanka on Saturday, have started to eclipse the Dhoni legend.
Kohli reached that mark in 196 innings, while Dhoni made his figure from 324.
But there seems to be little appetite among national cricket authorities to bring the issue of Dhoni’s retirement to a head.
India’s new cricket chief Sourav Ganguly promised last year that seniors like Dhoni will be respected and that the country’s champions “don’t finish quickly”.