At the post-match news conference on March 31, after losing the T20 World Cup semifinal to the West Indies, Mahendra Singh Dhoni engaged in banter with Cricket Australia reporter Samuel Ferris. The exchange was wrapped in humour but had a serious core. After Ferris asked Dhoni about his career plans, the captain called him to the podium. “I was hoping it was an Indian media guy because I can't really ask you if you have a brother or a son who can play for India as a keeper,” said Dhoni, his left hand scratching his dyed, designer beard. “Looking at me running, do you think I am unfit? Do you think I can survive till the 2019 World Cup?” he asked Ferris. The surprised reporter said yes, which seemed to make Dhoni happy.
Ferris's question was relevant. From now till June 2017, India will play 18 Test matches, far fewer ODIs and one T20 international. The focus, therefore, would not be on Dhoni, but on the Test team led by Virat Kohli. But, after the loss, Dhoni was prepared to pounce on any reporter who would ask him the retirement question. Throughout the tournament, Dhoni had been uncharacteristically crabby, and had snapped at a photojournalist in Mohali.
“The whole thing smacked of taking the mickey out of the media,” said former Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi. “Who knows what will happen between now and 2019?”
Former chairman of selectors Kiran More, however, said: “Dhoni knows the game so well. He knew what he wanted to play—ODI cricket. He has unbelievable fitness. If he wants to continue till 2019, he can do it. But let him decide when he wants to go.”
Dhoni’s impressive records, however, do not guarantee him the future. “You [Dhoni] have retired from Test cricket to save yourself for ODIs and T20s,” said Bedi. “Do you mean to say that kids who play Test cricket, like wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, will have to take it for granted that they will not play shorter formats because Dhoni is there?”
The good build-up to the World Twenty20 had given India hope. This was a chance for Dhoni to regain his magic touch and win a cup, perhaps one last time. However, India started its campaign with a shock loss to New Zealand. The wins against Pakistan and Australia were convincing, but Bangladesh gave a big scare. And, sure enough, after India's exit, some of Dhoni’s decisions began to be questioned. For instance, why did off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s lead bowler, deliver only 15 overs in five matches, especially on wickets that were supposed to aid spin? With the West Indies needing eight off the last over, Dhoni did not turn to the mentally tough Ashwin, reportedly because of the dew. However, the ball had been changed in the previous over as the first one was lost in the crowd after a huge six by Andre Russell. Dhoni seemed to have lost confidence in Ashwin—even in the match against Pakistan, Dhoni gave the ball to Jasprit Bumrah in the final overs. And, in the semifinal, Ashwin didn't even volunteer to bowl.
India's opening woes continued as Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan struggled to forge partnerships. The team became too dependent on Virat Kohli, who made 273 runs in five matches, more than what Sharma, Dhawan, Suresh Raina and Dhoni made together (261).
But, with the tournament over, the Indians now prepare for the Indian Premier League. One question, however, remains—what lies ahead for Dhoni?