Selectors on Dhoni, to Dhoni: We’re moving on

Signalling end of the road for the former India skipper, chief selector MSK Prasad says his committee will instead focus on Risabh Pant; Samson is back-up.

Chief selector MSK Prasad on Thursday made it clear that his selection committee has “moved on” from Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the former India captain no longer figures in their scheme of things. Prasad also reiterated that Rishabh Pant will continue to be India’s first-choice wicketkeeper in limited-overs cricket, while Sanju Samson has been brought back to the fold as his back-up.

The chief selector’s assertion assumes significance, for he dropped a not-so-subtle hint on Dhoni’s international future after meeting with BCCI president Sourav Ganguly. India captain Virat Kohli, who was rested for the upcoming three-match T20I series against Bangladesh, his stand-in Rohit Sharma and cricket board secretary Jay Shah were part of the meeting as well. The selectors picked a 15-member T20I squad, bringing in uncapped Mumbai allrounder Shivam Dube and bringing back Samson. Dhoni, who hasn’t played any cricket after the World Cup, continued to be absent.

“…I have been very, very clear on this that after the World Cup we have started backing Rishabh Pant and we will still back him and see that he progresses well. He might not have had the best of matches, but we can only make a player (grow) by backing him. We are very, very confident that he will come out successful,” Prasad told reporters after the selection meeting in Mumbai.

Asked if Dhoni was not in the selectors’ scheme of things anymore, Prasad said: “That’s what I made clear that we are moving on and giving opportunities to youngsters and see that they establish themselves in the side. With Rishabh Pant doing so well and even Sanju Samson coming into the side, I’m sure you will understand our thought process.”

Pant, though, hasn’t yet made an impact in white-ball cricket, scoring just 20 runs in three ODIs and 92 runs in five T20Is after the World Cup. And this is a reason why Samson has been included in the squad as his back-up. “With regards to Sanju, he has done exceptionally well for India A, he has done well in the recent Vijay Hazare Trophy. He has a fantastic domestic season. He is basically a batsman who can ‘keep and he will definitely be a back-up to Rishabh Pant. (At the moment) we are focusing on Rishabh and we will monitor his progress,” Prasad later told The Indian Express.

And yet, according to sources, it would be premature to completely write-off Dhoni unless the veteran ‘keeper-batsman hangs up his international boots. It is learnt that the team management’s message to the ex-skipper is to not to take a decision in a hurry, for it still needs to be seen how the Pant experiment pans out. The next World T20 in Australia is only a year away and the chances of Dhoni’s return aren’t completely ruled out. In 2016, then selection committee had brought back Ashish Nehra to the India fold ahead of the World T20 after a five-year hiatus.

Dhoni, however, has a mind of his own and it would be interesting to see what he decides about his future. This paper had reported that he went to the World Cup carrying a back niggle that got aggravated during the course of the tournament. Also, during the World Cup, he picked up a wrist injury. Dhoni is expected to be fit by November.

Samson returns

The diminutive Kerala ‘keeper-batsman made his T20I debut four years ago, against Zimbabwe at Harare. He hasn’t played for India since. Only about a fortnight ago, he scored 212 not out against Goa in a Vijay Hazare Trophy fixture at Alur. “I’m a very big believer that everything turns up at the right time,” Samson told this paper after the innings. Now that he has been given another opportunity to prove his mettle in international cricket, the 24-year-old will have to grab it.

Prasad addressed Samson’s inconsistency issue at the press conference. “His problem was inconsistency, but he is more consistent now, that is why we thought of drafting him into the squad,” the chief selector said, adding that Samson, if he plays, would bat in top-four.

Kohli rested for T20Is

After playing almost non-stop cricket over the past seven-odd months, Kohli was given a deserved break. The skipper would be back for the two-Test series against Bangladesh. “With the World Test Championship on, resting a premier player is risky and each Test is very important heading towards the Test Championship (final),” Prasad said.

New all-rounder

With Hardik Pandya out injured and Vijay Shankar not selected, the selection committee decided to have a look at the Mumbai all-rounder, who boasts of a first-class batting average of 48.19 and a bowling average south of 25.

Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Navdeep Saini weren’t considered, as they have been recuperating from injuries. Yuzvendra Chahal returned to the T20I squad.

Nadeem left out

Left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem, who replaced the injured Kuldeep Yadav for the final Test against South Africa at Ranchi and returned with four wickets, has been left out of the Test squad for the Bangladesh series. The three T20Is against Bangladesh would be played in Delhi, Rajkot and Nagpur on November 3, 7 and 10 respectively, while Indore hosts the first Test from November 14 and Kolkata is the venue for the second Test from November 22.

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