The inevitable has happened. The Indian cricket board (BCCI) on Wednesday (April 14) took the decision to suspend indefinitely the IPL 2020 on account of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision of the BCCI top brass came on the same day that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a lockdown extension until May 3. It was a decision that had to be taken, and many will argue that the BCCI should have postponed the IPL earlier.
With IPL 2020 suspended, this brings into focus the matter of MS Dhoni’s career. As I outlined in this video on the same matter yesterday, Dhoni has played his last ODI and his chances of making a return to India’s T20I squad are all but non-existent. The man has not played for India for nearly ten months and with the IPL out of the picture, this cancels out all chances of Dhoni playing in this year’s scheduled ICC T20 World Cup in October-November. A tournament which, let’s face it, is also not likely to happen.
Why am I even discussing Dhoni’s India career when he is nearing 39 and has not played an international in ten months?
Because if there was the slightest chance of him returning to play in the T20 World Cup in Australia, it hinged on his performances for Chennai Super Kings in IPL 2020. And, as Gautam Gambhir pointed out this week, without the IPL the decision has to be taken, long term, on who will keep wickets for India in T20Is.
Before he left the post of chief of selectors last year, MSK Prasad said during a press conference that the Indian cricket team was “moving on” from Dhoni. Since then, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant have kept wickets for India in T20Is; Rahul looks the preferred choice behind the stumps after he kept wickets in all five T20Is in New Zealand earlier this year, in which his excellent batting fetched him the Player-of-the-Series award in a 5-0 sweep.
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There has been no intimation from Dhoni or the BCCI or anyone inside the Indian team management that Dhoni is retired. And, knowing Dhoni’s penchant for staying away from the limelight, we cannot expect a decision to be made public. The decision will be his and only his. Nobody can make that decision but Dhoni, and until he does there will be no announcement from the BCCI.
Now, given that there will in all probability be no IPL 2020, we can look to next April and expect the IPL to return. By then, Dhoni will be nearly 40, and age where very few cricketers have been able to compete consistently in competitive cricket. Dhoni is, of course, a freak of a cricketer and it can be argued that his fitness levels have increased over the past three or four seasons. So if there is one Indian cricketer you can imagine to be playing in the 2021 IPL when nearing 40, it is Dhoni.
The IPL will return, of that there is no doubt. Dhoni will play another season, at the least, for CSK. We will continue to pontificate on his future, his fitness and his run-making abilities. The massive void left by his exit from limited-overs cricket will perhaps never be filled, such is the rarity and impact of the man. Spare a thought for Rahul and Pant and any other wicketkeeper-batsman chosen to do the job in ODIs and T20Is for India.
But of this we can be sure, even by the strange ways of Indian cricket – Dhoni has played his last match for India.