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Can India afford to play 2019 World Cup without MS Dhoni?

India Today logo India Today 17-08-2017 Rohan Sen
© AP Photo

At 36, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is still one of the fittest cricketers India has in its squad. He is still very quick behind the stumps and between the wickets but it is the consistency with the bat which has eluded Dhoni in recent times.

Dhoni has always been an unorthodox batsman who has depended a lot on his hand-and-eye coordination to score big runs. But while he has been able to maintain his overall fitness very well, age has caught up with him in terms of his abilities with the bat.

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Dhoni decided to prolong his career by announcing his retirement from Test cricket at the end of 2014 and stepped down from limited-overs captaincy in January this year and in the proceess, getting rid of the added pressure that was on him.

Virat Kohli has since proved to be a worthy successor and has been on a record-breaking spree as captain in the longest format. But he still has a lot to learn as a leader in the limited-overs formats.

That is where Dhoni steps in and can be seen guiding Kohli on the field nowadays helping him with bowling changes, field adjustments and especially DRS reviews. Dhoni holds the edge over the rest of the squad in terms of experience and everybody else looks up to him in the dressing room.

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Yuvraj Singh dropped from Virat Kohli-led India squad for Sri Lanka ODIs, T20I: Virat Kohli will be leading the Indian side against Sri Lanka in the ODIs, T20I. (Source: PTI) Yuvraj Singh dropped from Virat Kohli-led India squad for Sri Lanka ODIs, T20I

His inputs are invaluable to the team and he still has a lot to offer to Indian cricket. The 36-year-old has himself stated that he wants to play the next World Cup in two years time if he is still fit.

But the question is what about his form with the bat? Dhoni gave up the captaincy earlier this year and has since been averaging over 64 in ODI cricket having scored 386 runs in 13 matches so far with one hundred and three half-centuries. The numbers are still outstanding but it doesn't present the full picture here.

Dhoni has been the best finisher India has had in limited-overs cricket in the past decade but his prowess has been on the decline in the last couple of years. When he was in his prime, Dhoni took matches right till the very end before launching an all out attack on the opposition but he hasn't been able to play like that off late.

There have been a lot of question marks over Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh's spots in the side, especially after the Champions Trophy final where India got hammered by Pakistan. Yuvraj was dropped from the squad for the upcoming limited-overs series in Sri Lanka but Dhoni made the cut.

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(Video provided by Wisden)

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This is a clear indication that Yuvraj may not be in the scheme of things for the World Cup but Dhoni is still very much India's first choice wicketkeeper-batsman for now.

Rishabh Pant, who has been the on the selectors' radar ever since his recent exploits in the domestic circuit and the Indian Premier League this year, is being labelled as the future star or the next big thing in Indian cricket. He is the backup option for Dhoni in the limited-overs squad and has been warming the bench in the past few series.

Pant is an excellent wicketkeeper and an even better batsman. He is only 19-years-old and if he is groomed well for the next two years he may well be ready to take the responsibility with the gloves but it's the inexperienced middle-order which still needs a player like Dhoni to hold it together.

If India adopts the five-bowler theory for the World Cup in England then it will need all its established batsmen to fire in each and every game. Dhoni holds a key position in that batting order along with Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.

Giving opportunity to youngsters like Pant is the way forward for Indian cricket but for important tournaments like the World Cup, the team needs its best players to take the field.

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