Ravi Shastri’s appointment as India’s coach until the Twenty20 World Cup in 2021 is not an entirely surprising one.
They’ve been stars of their respective teams for over a decade in 50-over cricket, but Chris Gayle and MS Dhoni should call time on their ODI careers when this World Cup comes to an end.
While both players have managed to meet the standard for this tournament, they’ve shown a few key weaknesses too. Both of them, in different ways, are also getting in the way of their teams’ further development and for that reason they should make way.
Although famous for once hitting the first ball of a Test match for six, the man who calls himself the Universe Boss has recently developed quite a taste for starting his innings very slowly. That’s not unusual, of course – everyone likes to get their eye in – except that with Gayle that also means running slowly too.
His reluctance to hustle the singles and doubles in the first 15 overs heightens the pressure on his batting partners. While the 39-year-old knows that he will likely make good later in his innings through his trademark power hitting, his team-mates would likely prefer taking the opportunity to rotate the strike.
The approach is working well for him, but is not really in line with the rest of the West Indies team, which is now younger, fleet-footed and generally pretty dynamic aside from poor old Ashley Nurse.
The left-hander’s immobility at the crease is also becoming really obvious. His front foot is barely moving towards the ball although the lack of swing is allowing him to get away with more than normal.
He struggles just as much to get back quickly to play short-pitched deliveries, which means he’s missing scoring opportunities on those balls, too. Gayle also leaks runs in the field, turning like an oil tanker and falling towards the ball as he stands at slip, rather than actually diving at it.
Thankfully, the Jamaican announced in February that he would stop playing one-day cricket after the World Cup comes to an end, but can we really believe him?
He’s been known to give cryptic public statements in the past – like when he cheekily claimed he’d named his daughter Blush, for instance – and he’s often played for the Windies on his own terms. I could easily see him throwing his cap in the ring the next time his team is struggling. Let’s hope he doesn’t.
With MS Dhoni, no such retirement statement has been forthcoming, although his hand may be forced after the tournament anyway.
Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar was rightfully critical of Dhoni’s recent slow batting against Afghanistan (28 off 52 balls) and many Indian fans piped up online, saying the former Indian skipper should step aside.
Like Gayle, Dhoni does miss opportunities to score off each ball – especially early in his innings – convinced that he will make good at the end. He tends to only get going once he decides the time is right to launch the run chase, but if the late bowling is disciplined – like it was from Afghanistan – this may mean that he leaves himself with an impossible task.
The issue with Dhoni is more about India picking their best 11. With the country’s huge professional player pool and IPL batting production line, India would be wise to match England’s current approach in picking a gun batting unit that can score big every time.
With the dynamic and chatty Rishabh Pant, they have a quick-scoring keeper who would be better suited to the one-day format anyway. Why not pick him at No.7 and beef up the middle order with a more dynamic batsman than Dhoni?
It’s said that Dhoni’s canny on-field advice is particularly helpful to Kohli, who can be hot-headed at times in the field. But the 345-game veteran won’t be able to play forever, so it’s a good time to develop some other new leaders in the side.
With one-day cricket slowly morphing into a 50-over version of Twenty20, players need to be able to play at full throttle.
There’s no doubt that Dhoni and Gayle are both legends of the game, but if their respective teams want to get on track early for the next World Cup, they should act now and move them on.