Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
IND v AUS (1)
Abu Dhabi T10 (6)
BAN v NZ (1)
Legends League (2)
IND v ENG (W-A) (1)
Hazare Trophy (18)
Sheffield Shield (3)
SA v WI (A tour) (1)
WBBL 2023 (1)
"How many of us still believe that MSD is the best wicketkeeper in the world?" When MSK Prasad, India's chairman of selectors, asked for a show of hands in response to that question, about three to four hands went up out of 25-odd people. Prasad expressed surprise at the circumspection over MS Dhoni's inclusion in the 15-man squad for the Champions Trophy, after he was asked if there was concern among the selectors over Dhoni's spot in the squad.
"We all believe he is still the best wicketkeeper in the world," Prasad said. "We are only talking and focusing on his batting form. He is an invaluable asset to this team. When it comes to crunch situations, [with] his inputs, I think he has got one of the best brains. He is the best person to guide Virat [Kohli]."
Prasad's praise is not misplaced, considering Dhoni still is a key player for India as far as strategising goes. But as a batsman, he has struggled recently in limited-overs cricket. In 13 ODIs since January last year, Dhoni has scored 443 runs at an average of 34.07, compared to his career average of 51. He has struck them at a strike rate of 86.69 and has one century and one fifty.
In this period, Dhoni has played both at No. 4 and 5, but his strike rate is 10th among 17 players. As a No. 4 during that period, Dhoni averages 30 and strikes at 76.14. Batting one position lower, the average and strike rate climb to 36.62 and 93.31 respectively.
So far this IPL, Dhoni has compiled 235 runs for Rising Pune Supergiant at an underwhelming strike rate of 114.07 - his worst across seasons - which has further strengthened concerns over his quick scoring ability. Just last season, he was striking them at 135. Dhoni has also scored at less than run a ball in six out of 12 innings so far this IPL.
This dip in Dhoni's form has coincided with the soaring mettle of Rishabh Pant, the 19-year old Delhi Daredevils wicketkeeper. Pant, who was also an emerging player last domestic season, has lit up this IPL with his enterprising strokeplay, scoring 281 runs from 11 innings at an impressive strike rate of 172.39.
Nonetheless, Prasad felt Dhoni remained the best option right now to play for India. "Not many people realise that in the last 10-12 years, whatever MSD has played for the country, he never had a bad day as far as his gloves is concerned. We always treat him more like a batsman, but the phenomenal stuff he does behind the wickets, not many people appreciate. According to me, he is still the best wicketkeeper in the world."
As for Pant, the selectors named him as one of the five standbys who will travel to England in case India seek a replacement. According to Prasad, the selectors did deliberate on Pant, but felt he did not fit into the "combinations", although he will be groomed. "We are completely impressed the way Rishabh Pant is playing. It is just some combinations where he missed out. He is one cricketer whom we are looking at for the future. We will groom him, nurture him and back him."