Legendary Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar has backed MS Dhoni to continue playing for the Men in Blue until the 2019 Cricket World Cup. However, he said the selectors' decision to drop the senior statesman from the T20I series is "perfectly understandable".
Gavaskar pointed out that the likes of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have been showcasing solid leadership skills and thus captain Virat Kohli has a good number of experienced campaigners in the leadership group to seek advice from.
The former India captain's comments came on Saturday, hours after Dhoni was dropped from the T20I squads for the West Indies series (starting November 4) and the Australia series (Starting November 21).
Dhoni has been facing flak over waning finishing skills and a prolonged period of poor form. The 37-year-old, who seemingly is a shadow of his former ruthless self, has been striking at a paltry rate of 68.10 in the 50-over format, managing just 252 runs from 19 matches (12 innings) in 2018.
The Jharkhand stumper's poor form is only adding to India's middle-order woes even as the world number one side has been struggling to find the ideal combination in the lead-up to next year's World Cup.
"Virat needs him [Dhoni]. There's no doubt about it. In 50 overs where there is that much more time, that's when MSD comes into play. You know he makes those small field adjustments, talking to the bowlers in Hindi — telling them where to bowl and what to bowl. It's a huge plus for Virat," Gavaskar said during an analysis show on Star Sports.
"MSD is an absolute must for the 2019 World Cup. But having said that, I believe, the way Rohit Sharma has come to the party as a captain, as a thinker as a planner. He has been brilliant.
"With Rohit coming in and also Ajinkya Rahane, Virat has a couple more shoulders to lean on. Therefore, I think this move to have MS Dhoni take a break from T20I cricket."
Dhoni is unlikely to continue playing till the 2020 World T20 and it only makes sense for the team management and the selectors to groom highly-rated Rishabh Pant while the Ranchi hero is still playing international cricket.
Pant already has been named as the first-choice wicketkeeper in Tests for the Australia series and is likely to don the gloves during the West Indies and Australia T20I series as well.
'Dhoni has a lot more than just his batting numbers'
Meanwhile, former India spinner Murali Karthik isn't entirely convinced with the selector's decision as believes Dhoni is more than just his numbers.
"It's not just about the numbers. It's what he adds to the team, adds from behind the stumps as well. The team is looking up to him and as one of the senior statesman, he has got a very calm head," Karthik said.
"He has a lot more than just the batting numbers. But having taken that call, it's a bold one from the selectors."
While trying out a "second wicketkeeper" in the lead up to the World T20 is certainly a bold call, it remains to be seen how much match practice Dhoni will get before the next year's World Cup, considering he only plays the T20Is and the ODIs.
At a time when India are left with only a little more than 10 ODIs before the global showpiece event, stripping Dhoni of six international matches might work against the veteran and eventually the team.
It remains to be seen if Dhoni features for Jharkhand in the Ranji Trophy 2018-19 season, starting November 1 to get a bit of match practice ahead of the Australia ODIs, which are scheduled from January 12.