Mahendra Singh Dhoni did not relinquish captaincy of India’s limited-overs teams but was nudged by the selectors into making the “bombshell announcement” – they told him his time at the helm was up, sources said.
The Indian cricket board announced on Wednesday that MS Dhoni, the double World Cup-winning skipper, had decided to step down as the captain of the one-day and Twenty20 sides but would continue playing.
However, sources in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) told HT that Dhoni did not step down on his own. Selection committee chairman MSK Prasad had met the 35-year-old in Nagpur during last week’s Ranji Trophy semifinal between Jharkhand, Dhoni’s home state, and Gujarat.
Once the board made the announcement, Prasad hailed Dhoni’s decision. “I salute him for his sense of perfect timing. He knew that Virat (Kohli) is now a proven customer who has done exceptionally well as a leader in Tests,” Prasad told media.
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But, the process to hand over the captaincy to Test skipper Kohli was set in motion as early as September, the sources said.
The setting up of the new selection committee on September 21 was the starting point. The five-man panel brainstormed over the roadmap for Indian cricket, with the focus firmly on 2019 World Cup.
It was explained to Dhoni – who would be almost 39 when the 50-over World Cup is held — why Kohli should take over, the sources said.
The matter was again discussed with Dhoni during the last week’s Ranji tie in Nagpur, where he was present as the mentor of Jharkhand.
After that things moved quickly. Dhoni conveyed his decision to quit as the limited-overs captain to the BCCI on January 4 before the announcement was made.
There has been pressure on Dhoni over his captaincy. While Kohli’s standing has zoomed — he has led India to five Test-series wins in a row — the ODI side’s performance has been patchy.
In 2015, India lost to South Africa at home, were beaten 4-1 in Australia early last year, and then scraped past New Zealand 3-2 towards the year end.
Dhoni though led India to the semifinals of the 2015 World Cup, where they lost to co-hosts Australia, the eventual champions. India won seven and lost six ODIs last year.
Dhoni’s camp argued the ODI team wasn’t as dominating as the Test side because the selectors were focused entirely on the longer format.
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They picked a full-strength side for the Test series against New Zealand and England but rested main bowlers R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja for the ODIs against the Kiwis.
However, the Test side did consistently well despite injuries to several players.
Kohli, in his first interview after being named limited-overs captain, said: “It’s a win-win situation for the captain coming in to still have Dhoni for his advice, his inputs and his cricketing brain.
“But what I’m most happy about is that he’ll be able to play free cricket and express himself as the aggressive MS Dhoni we knew when he first came into the team. As a player, responsibility can take that away from you. I think it’s time he enjoys his cricket because he has taken so much burden for the country.”