Limited shelf life my 'biggest motivation' - Dhoni

MS Dhoni has said the limited shelf life as an international cricket is his greatest driving force to keep playing, and that maintaining peak fitness is his top priority towards achieving that end

Arun Venugopal
MS Dhoni has said the limited shelf life as an international cricketer is his greatest driving force to keep playing at the highest level, and that maintaining peak fitness is his top priority towards achieving that end.
There has been speculation around Dhoni's future for quite some time, and it is likely to continue considering India's limited-overs calendar is fairly thin following the Zimbabwe series - they aren't scheduled to play a limited-overs series until October-November when New Zealand tour the country. Dhoni, who will turn 35 next month, has answered questions about his future in different tones, ranging from humour to indignation, but ahead of India's departure to Zimbabwe for a short series featuring three ODIs and three T20 internationals, he zeroed in on what he felt needed to be done to keep playing at the highest level.
"It's only a brief period where you can actually represent your country and that's the biggest motivation for me," Dhoni said at the team's pre-departure media session in Mumbai. "More than what you've achieved in your career, the fact that you are representing your country [motivates you]. And to achieve that, I have to keep myself fit. I am 35 right now, and I know the day I'm not able to run as fast as I'm running right now, I know the guns where they are coming from. Form will keep going up and down. You can't control that, but fitness is very important. At this point of time, my only concern is fitness, but so far it has been good.
"Quite a few people think wicket-keeping and batting is considerable load on the body. But often I tell them, right from Under-16, once you start playing [multiple] days cricket... other players don't have a defined work[load]. A fast bowler may bowl 12, 13 or 17 overs. A wicketkeeper will maximum keep 90 overs in a day. So your workload doesn't vary."
Former India team director Ravi Shastri had recently suggested that Virat Kohli be appointed captain in all three formats. Given India play mostly Tests, starting from June - 17 scheduled matches until March - Shastri had said "the gaps" in play would be hard on Dhoni. "He can still contribute massively as a player," Shastri had said. "I think the time has come for to allow him to enjoy himself and enjoy the game."
When Shastri's observations were presented to Dhoni in a two-part question, he responded diplomatically and swiftly veered towards the other question on the Zimbabwe series. "It's not like I am not enjoying the game," Dhoni said. "But it's a decision that BCCI will take. It's not up to me to decide that."
While Dhoni felt it was premature to look ahead to the 50-over World Cup in 2019, he said series such as the one in Zimbabwe would be ideal preparation for the Champions Trophy in England next year. "The fact is that we won't be playing a lot of ODI cricket. After this we play against New Zealand and maybe another five to seven ODIs more," he said. "We play a lot of Test cricket this season. So I feel every game that we get will be very crucial. We will try to see what is the best thing for the squad overall. Zimbabwe is challenging because it's one venue where the toss is vital. There are not many places in the world where you play day games, so you have to accordingly adapt."
Dhoni, however, admitted it would be a different experience to lead a side that doesn't feature most of the regular players, and that he would have to size up things quickly. "You keep playing with almost the same group of players, so you almost know the roles and responsibilities and what each player's strengths are," he said.
"There will be quite a few players in this bilateral series with whom I'll be playing for the first time. So I have to quickly assess their strengths and, at the same time, according to the team composition what is the best possible manner in which each individual can be utilised.
"When it comes to the talent part, the squad looks good. All of them have been rewarded for their [performances in] domestic cricket. It will be exciting to see them on the field. Most of them are very good fielders, so that will be good."
Dhoni said the bowling department had better exposure to international cricket than the batsmen, and the challenge was to find the right batting slots for players in the squad. "I feel they [the bowlers] are much improved as of now," he said. "[Jasprit] Bumrah has improved in whatever games he has got. He's had a good IPL. Barinder [Sran] got a fair amount of exposure in the IPL and we saw him improve from the first game till the last. When it comes to spinners, [Yuzvendra] Chahal and Axar [Patel] have been veterans in the limited-overs setup.
"Batting… we have to see what is the slot available for a particular individual. Where you get to play in your domestic scene is very different [to where you bat] when you play for the national side. That is a good thing because you can show your adaptability. If the team needs you to bat at a particular position, how you adapt and show what you can actually do and contribute to the team's win."

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun