No immediate threat to Dhoni's captaincy
MS Dhoni might have combatively said he is ready to step aside as India's captain if that guarantees success, but his reign as India's limited-overs captain appears to be under no real immediate threat.
Dhoni was speaking in the aftermath of India's first-ever bilateral series defeat to Bangladesh when he responded in an uncharacteristic manner, seeking to suggest he is blamed for everything that is wrong with Indian cricket and that "if you remove me and the Indian cricket will start doing really well, and if I am the reason for all the bad that is happening to Indian cricket, definitely I would love to step away and play as a player".
However, according to an informed source, for the moment at least, Dhoni's position is secure though the situation will be "reconsidered" after the World T20 in India in March next year.
That seems consistent with the decision deadline Dhoni had set himself. After India's defeat in the World Cup semi-final, Dhoni had said he will take a call on his long-term future after the World T20 while not ruling out his chances of playing the 2019 World Cup. ESPNcricinfo has learnt the World T20 has been identified as a "cut-off point" of sorts after which Dhoni's fitness, form and performances will be assessed keeping in mind the team's next major assignment: the 2017 Champions Trophy.
At any rate, with India scheduled to play only Test cricket between next month's highly unlikely tour of Zimbabwe and the home ODIs against South Africa in October, the selectors do not have to make a decision right away. And even if India go to Zimbabwe, the selectors are highly unlikely to pick a full-strength squad.
As of now, India look committed to playing limited-overs cricket under Dhoni until the World T20, but the process of identifying players to step into his shoes has already begun. For instance, Robin Uthappa was asked to keep wicket and bat in the lower middle order in the two games against Sri Lanka last year although he prefers to open the innings. Others being looked at to play a "similar role" to Dhoni's are Test keeper Wriddhiman Saha, Naman Ojha, Kerala's young wicket-keeper batsman Sanju Samson, and Pathiv Patel.
Dhoni's assertion that he will be happy to play just "as a player" if removed as captain also hasn't come as much of a surprise. Describing Dhoni as a "different sort of character" a source in the know said that Dhoni will take stock of his future based on his "fitness" and "ability to contribute" as a player. Dhoni's decision to bat up the order at No. 4 - a move he said was made so he could bat "more freely" - is also being seen as a positive step from the captain.
It is felt that heavy defeats in the first two games against an "emerging power" in Bangladesh can be put down to the players being "mentally jaded" at the fag end of a long season. If the Zimbabwe tour goes ahead, it will mark a new season, but Dhoni is likely to be rested, unless of course India lose the third ODI too and there is a fear of further embarrassment in Zimbabwe.
As for Dhoni, he will want to make sure India win the last game of the season, because while his captaincy might be safe as of now, there is no telling what greater scrutiny a whitewash at the hands of Bangladesh might bring.
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75