CHENNAI: Luck is a word that was often used in the early stages of MS Dhoni’s career. When whatever he touched turned gold, ‘Midas touch’ started appearing here and there. When his unorthodox yet effective methods became a norm, those words disappeared or made no sense anymore. But may be, who knows, that same luck seems to have rescued Dhoni once again.
In the squad for the limited-over leg of the Sri Lanka series as the only wicketkeeper, it seems Dhoni is in the scheme of things looking ahead to the 2019 World Cup. With Rishabh Pant failing with the India A team in South Africa, the veteran is set to get a good run, even if it means the likes of Pant or Sanju Samson stay in the sidelines.
Going by chief selector MSK Prasad, Dhoni’s inclusion in the limited-over sides is not automatic anymore. “Everybody is discussed. It’s not just MS. When we pick players, talk about combinations, we discuss everybody. You will see that in the time to come. We don’t say it’s an automatic thing (Dhoni’s selection). We all want the team to do well. If he is delivering, why not? If he is not, we will have to look at alternatives,” Prasad said in Pallekele on Monday.
With Prasad revealing that a core group of 22-25 has been identified, there is every possibility that a few more will be tested when Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka come calling beginning September. Despite registering series wins in the longest format, India have not done as well in limited overs of late.
Top of priorities seems to be fitness, which Prasad said, even Pakistan are not overlooking. “We need to raise our fitness levels and fielding standards. We are trying to fix some fitness parameters and whoever it is has to strictly adhere to those. We have two to three phases leading up to the 2019 World Cup and if someone fails to match those parameters, he will not be considered, whoever it is,” Prasad said.
In the Champions Trophy side that lost to Pakistan in the final, Yuvraj Singh and R Ashwin were the slower of movers. The former has been dropped and although Prasad said there is always room for comeback, considering Yuvraj’s age it is hard to see that happening. And with Ashwin, it is understood that he was not even part of the Champions Trophy plans, as skipper Virat Kohli wanted a wrist-spinner.
The inclusion of leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and chinaman Kuldeep Yadav indicates what the team wants. As it is, most teams have started showing a preference for wrist-spinners in the one-day and T20 formats. By naming KL Rahul as No 4, the team management is hoping it will address one of their key areas of concern — the lack of an enforcer in the middle.
The right-hander, although definitely a better bet as an opener, will provide something new to ponder over. Then there are Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer to fall back on if this experiment fails. But for the first time since taking over last September, the selection committee headed by Prasad seems to be moving in a definite direction. Till the Champions Trophy, it was largely about trying out established names. Now, there are signs that more new faces will be tested.
Ravichandran Ashwin grabbed four wickets as India crushed Sri Lanka by an innings and 171 runs inside three days to complete their first three-Test series sweep on foreign soil. Off-spinner Ashwin and paceman Mohammed Shami shared seven wickets as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 181 in their follow-on in Pallekele.
Sri Lanka crumbled to 135 all out in their first response to India’s first innings 487. “We are a young side. We look forward to playing Test cricket with the same kind of excitement. That’s the only way you can be ruthless...We like to be proactive rather than reactive,” said captain Virat Kohli. “We have age on our side. We have an opportunity to play together for five-six years with this whole bunch and this really excites us,” he added.
India 1st innings 487. Sri Lanka 1st innings 135.
Sri Lanka 2nd innings (following on, overnight 19-1): Karunaratne c Rahane b Ashwin 16, Tharanga b U Yadav 7, Pushpakumara c Saha b Shami 1, Mendis lbw Shami 12, Chandimal c Pujara b K Yadav 36, Mathews lbw Ashwin 35, Dickwella c Rahane b U Yadav 41, Perera c Pandya b Ashwin 8, Sandakan c Saha b Shami 8, Fernando not out 4, Kumara b Ashwin 10. Extras (b 2, nb 1) 3. Total (all out, 74.3 overs) 181. FoW: 1-15, 2-26, 3-34, 4-39, 5-104, 6-118, 7-138, 8-166, 9-168. Bowling: Shami 15-6-32-3, Ashwin 28.3-6-68-4, U Yadav 13-5-21-2, K Yadav 17-4-56-1, Pandya 1-0-2-0.