MUMBAI (Reuters) - India’s cricket selectors on Sunday named Rishabh Pant as their preferred wicketkeeper for all three formats for next month’s tour of West Indies with the future of long-serving glovesman Mahendra Singh Dhoni still shrouded in mystery.
Dhoni, 38, has been the subject of intense speculation on his retirement from international cricket over the past few days since India’s semi-final exit from the World Cup.
The veteran of 350 one-dayers, who quit playing tests at the end of 2014, has not provided even a hint of what his plans are and made himself unavailable for the trip to the Caribbean where India will play three T20s, three ODIs and two tests.
“He’s expressed his unavailability for this series,” Chief selector MSK Prasad told reporters.
“We had certain roadmap and plans till the World Cup. Subsequently, we’ve laid down few more plans and we thought of giving as many opportunities as possible to Rishabh Pant and to see he is groomed.”
Widely considered as the best ‘finisher’ in contemporary cricket, Dhoni has recently struggled to start his innings while his ability to put bowlers to the sword at the end has also been on the wane.
Dhoni’s glovework, however, still remains top class and questions have been raised by former cricketers, pundits and local media if it was the right time for him to step away and help India groom his successor.
The next 50-over World Cup is still four years away but the World Twenty20 will be held in 2020 and Dhoni enjoys unwavering support from India captain Virat Kohli who has publicly backed him on numerous occasions.
“Retirement is purely individual. A legendary cricketer like MS Dhoni, they know when to retire,” Prasad said. “But what is the future course of action, what is the roadmap that we have to take is in the hands of the selection committee.
“I don’t think we need to discuss anything on it, because first of all he’s not available. Second, we have already started grooming some youngsters.”
With the two tests in Caribbean kicking off the new World Test Championships, India named a full-strength 16-man squad for the series in which experienced wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha was recalled after being out injured for more than a year.
His replacement Pant, 21, has used his chances well and hit a century in an Oval test last year while also smashing an unbeaten 159 against Australia in Sydney in January.
Regular test opener Prithvi Shaw and all-rounder Hardik Pandya were out with injuries with the latter also not named in the squads for white ball cricket.
Opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan has recovered from his broken thumb that forced him to leave the World Cup midway but all-rounder Vijay Shankar was yet to regain complete fitness following his toe injury.
India’s selectors opted to rest ace fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah for the limited-overs matches while including uncapped speedster Navdeep Saini in the squad.
It appeared to be the end of the road for Dinesh Karthik in the India side with Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer included to stake their claims for the middle order batting slots.
Tests - Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Mayank Agarwal, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav
ODIs - Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kedar Jadhav, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Navdeep Saini
T20s - Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant, Krunal Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Rahul Chahar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Pritha Sarkar