India coach Ravi Shastri has hinted that there are "surprises in store" from MS Dhoni "with the bat". There has been a perception over the last few years that Dhoni has struggled to finish games. And while he wasn't at his destructive best in the recently concluded 5-0 series victory over Sri Lanka, his ability to read the limited-overs game ensured he finished with 162 runs from four ODI innings, without being dismissed.
With Dhoni being 36 now, and the next World Cup in 2019, India seem to have some time to help groom a replacement in less demanding circumstances but Shastri had quashed such arguments two weeks ago saying age was no factor in the debate when the skills haven't faded. And on Tuesday, speaking to India Today, answering a question on whether Dhoni should be in India's World Cup plans, Shastri said, "If he keeps performing like that, how can you even think of anything else?"
"He is one of the fittest guys in the team. As far as wicketkeeping goes, in one-day cricket, he's the best and let me tell you there'll be some surprises in store with the bat. You watch. I have a feeling there is something around the corner. In Sri Lanka, you might have just seen a trailer."
Dhoni has been taking a few measures to tweak his game, ditching his preferred style of pads for the more orthodox kind and has been working on a more balanced knee flexion. Technical changes aside, Shastri said Dhoni's hunger to perform for India has not faded yet. "A break from Test cricket has been very good for him. For going through all those years as a wicketkeeper across all three formats has been tough."
Another topic that has been debated is the resting of India's lead spinners from the series against Australia starting on September 17. It is the second one in a row that doesn't feature R Ashwin, though in this time he is playing for Worcestershire in the County Championship, and Ravindra Jadeja. Even with the chairman of selectors MSK Prasad insisting the offspinner was rested, there was speculation over whether he was dropped from the one-day side.
Shastri said India were making sure Ashwin and Jadeja do not burn out.
"You have a heck of a lot of cricket being played. You have about 25 Test matches in two years. You have a similar number of one-day games and a similar number of T20 games. Now you want a guy operating in a mode in a particular format that is very good from the team point of view. If you look at the No. 1 and 2 bowlers in the world, it's Ashwin and Jadeja [sic three and two] and we are playing a heck of a lot of cricket, a lot of Test cricket. So if you start playing them across all formats, there will be burn out.
"The World Cup is still two years away. There's enough time. Every now and then they might play. But the emphasis should be on Test matches as far as they are concerned. They can play across all three formats. So how much you want to use a player here, as opposed to a different format, that is a decision the team management will have to take.
"[India go to] South Africa for two months [in 2018], England two and a half months, Australia two and a half-three months, so you don't want a burnout or more important than that, injuries. Already you would have seen in Sri Lanka, all 15 players played. You will see at least, across the one-day formats, just having a chat with the selectors, their intentions, I think are very good. Try as many guys who are on the fringe and then boil down to a point, six months, seven months to the World Cup, you have about 17-18 players to choose [from]. That will depend on current form, at that time form will be very important as well, and of course the fitness parameters."