Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun
MS Dhoni has effectively been guaranteed a spot in the 2019 World Cup, about 18 months away, after the chairman of selectors MSK Prasad gave a resounding appraisal of the " No.1 wicketkeeper in the world". While this is the first time a selector has made a definitive statement on Dhoni's participation in the World Cup, it is not yet a given that Prasad himself will be selecting the squad for the tournament.
According to media reports, the selection committee, comprising Prasad, Sarandeep Singh and Devang Gandhi, has been given a temporary extension until the BCCI's next Annual General Meeting. A selector's contract is renewed annually and his tenure runs for a maximum of four years. Prasad, who first became a selector in Sandeep Patil's committee in November 2015 before taking over as chairman the following year, can technically remain a selector till late 2019, if he is granted an extension.
Meanwhile, Prasad's remarks came four months after he had declared Dhoni wasn't an automatic selection anymore. However, in hailing Dhoni's near-indispensability, Prasad also acknowledged India's lack of success in unearthing a suitable wicket-keeping alternative.
Prasad's change in heart has also been guided by Dhoni's eye-catching performances behind the stumps, a facet that Prasad has often felt is overshadowed by what he does with the bat. "I think MS Dhoni is still remains the number one wicketkeeper in the World," he told reporters after announcing India's squad for the six-match ODI series in South Africa in February. "And, day in and day out we have been seeing, even in the current T20 series [against Sri Lanka] the stumpings that he does, the caught-behinds that he takes are phenomenal, there is no comparison. I don't see any wicketkeeper, who is even close to him in world cricket, forget Indian cricket."
It is not as if the selectors haven't looked at other options, but they have hardly been given a run at the international level. Rishabh Pant, for one, was seen as a possible back-up option when he was picked for the limited-overs tour of West Indies. Unfortunately for him and the selection panel, Pant has since endured an extended poor run with the bat. An underwhelming tour to South Africa with the India A side was followed by modest returns of 3 runs from two List A games against New Zealand A at home. He has had a middling run in the Ranji Trophy as well with 262 runs from seven innings, including a solitary fifty. Meanwhile, Dinesh Karthik, the other likely contender, has been picked for India in limited-overs cricket, but is looked at solely as a middle-order batsman.
While Prasad didn't name anyone in particular, he mentioned none of the emerging wicketkeepers had met the standards required of playing at the highest level. However, he said the selection committee would continue to try different options in India A tours to ensure they identify suitable talents. "We are grooming some wicket-keepers in India A tours. More or less we have fixed up [our] mind till the World Cup and after that at later stages we will start grooming some of those wicketkeepers in India A tours," he said. "Let me tell you frankly that still those boys are not up to the levels that we have expected. We will still keep giving them chances in the India A tours and see that they are nurtured."