On a hot and humid 15th August evening unbeknownst to the general public Mahendra Singh Dhoni said the words all his fans had dreaded: “from 1929hrs consider me as retired,” ending over a year of suspense and also an era during which his often unorthodox leadership and finishing skills became the stuff of legends.
Dhoni’s last outing in India colours was during the heartbreaking World Cup semifinal loss to New Zealand in July last year. Dhoni strode Indian cricket like a colossus — the only captain in history to win all three ICC events and a wicketkeeper par excellence. His nonchalant unemotional style won him admirers not only in India but throughout cricket playing nations. They gave him the title of ‘Captain Cool’.
Behind Dhoni’s cool facade was a shrewd tactician who won India games from seemingly impossible positions. The Indian cricket fan was overjoyed as wins increased in frequency under his reign and the Men in Blue became a force to reckon in all three formats.
The reticent man from Ranchi made several important contributions to Indian cricket. Apart from winning the ODI and T20 World Cups and the ICC Champions Trophy, he spotted talent in youngsters, nourished them, gave them opportunities, and enabled them to become world class players. Case in point: Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.
Under the tutelage of Dhoni, Virat and Rohit honed their skills, and today one is a titan of all three formats of the game while the other has attained legendary status in the white-ball game.
Kohli is the one of most consistent all-format players of his time with a specialisation in jaw-dropping chases. The talismanic Indian skipper has shattered record after record, accumulating over 12,000 runs in ODI, 7240 in Test, and 2928 T20 runs. With a combined 70 tons in international cricket, he is only second to Sachin Tendulkar (100) in the list of century-scorers in international cricket. Under his captaincy, the Indian team enjoyed a long stay at No. 1 in Test rankings and registered a first-ever series win in Australia. Like Tendulkar he is a very special once in a generation player.
Meanwhile, Rohit had been in and out of the side till Dhoni elevated him to the role of the opener in white-ball cricket in 2013. It turned out to be a masterstroke. The transformed Rohit, who was admired for his lazy elegance and criticised for his inconsistencies proved to be a revelation. His batting has single-handedly won many matches for India. The 33-year-old holds the world record for the highest individual score by a batsman playing in an ODI, having scored 264 against Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens in 2014 and is the only player to have scored three double-centuries in this 50 over game.
Together the troika has dominated world cricket in the last decade, scaling new heights with the Indian team.
Both Kohli and Rohit have been around for quite some time now and are in their early to mid-thirties. With Dhoni already hanging his boots and the other two to follow suit, perhaps not immediately, Indian cricket needs to start looking beyond the Dhoni-Kohli-Rohit era.
One does not see any immediate replacement for any of the three. The team management has struggled to find a wicketkeeper post Dhoni’s departure. However, there are some capable and exciting prospects that could fill the gaps left by the ‘big three’.
KL Rahul is the first name that pops into the head. The Karnataka lad has evolved as a batsman in all formats over the years. He is technically sound, stylish, and is extremely versatile. Rahul can bat anywhere between number 1-5 as per the team’s requirement and has also taken the challenge to keep wickets in the white-ball formats. He has matured as a class player over a period of time and has emerged as a frontrunner to captain the Men in Blue. Captaincy in the IPL has made him responsible and Rahul is destined to be a key player in Indian cricket in the next five years.
Shreyas Iyer has also announced himself as a good addition to the Indian cricket scene. India found their perfect number four in him. His performance in the New Zealand tour showed that he has the temperament and class to make an impact. Currently, a permanent member of the Indian white-ball squad, Iyer has the potential to play Test cricket too. Given a chance to play the red-ball format the youngster is likely to polish his game to suit the format. With the captaincy of Delhi Capitals thrust upon him, Iyer has done well, taking his team to the final in IPL 2020. His calm demeanour on the field reminiscent of Dhoni has won him kudos from discerning critics. The 26-year-ol has all the qualities that could make him the Indian captain in the future.
There are a number of other exciting young players like Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan Sanju Samson, who are knocking on the doors of the Indian cricket team.
Rishabh Pant has played all three formats, including keeping the wickets in the 2018-19 tour of Australia and the ODI World Cup. Considered the heir apparent to Dhoni, Pant has two overseas centuries to his credit in Tests. Although off late he seems off colour, lacking consistency and temperament, he has the potential and talent to do well. If he is able to overcome his inconsistencies, a bright future awaits the hard-hitting 23-year-old.
Another youngster with a sparkling future is Prithvi Shaw. The former India under-19 skipper stamped his presence on the international stage with a brilliant century on his Test debut. He has runs to his credit in Test, especially in Indian conditions against the West Indies but needs to be tested against stronger teams and in overseas conditions to hone his skills. A natural stroke-maker, Shaw oozes sheer class in every shot. With time, the 21-year-old is bound to make adjustments in his game and could provide the much-needed fearlessness at the top of the order for India.
Shubman Gill did not receive the hype his skipper Prithvi Shaw did nor was he flooded with opportunities. But with his performances the 21-year-old has come into the selectors’ radar as the attractive and technically sound batsman. His performance in the Under-19 World Cup, IPL, India A, and Ranji Trophy has made him a strong candidate to play in all formats for India. Gill has made the most of his limited opportunities. If his talent is nurtured the youngster will serve Indian cricket for a long length of time. He is certainly one for the future.
Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan are the other two players who could shine in the white-ball formats. Although Samson is yet to make an impact in the limited opportunities he has received, an aggressive batter like him has the potential to take any opposition to the cleaners in T20s. He is also a reliable wicket-keeper. Kishan too has made a strong case for himself with his IPL exploits. However, with so much competition for the wicketkeepers spot, he needs to continue performing in domestic to be a serious contender.