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Dhoni's Future in Doubt as Selectors Look To "Groom" Rishabh Pant as Their First Choice Keeper

MS Dhoni’s international future seems clouded in doubt after Chairman of Selectors MSK Prasad hinted that while he was part of the “plans” till the World Cup, the panel was keen to give Rishabh Pant as many opportunities as possible in going forward as the future Wicket-Keeper Batsmen. The 38-year old Mahendra Singh Dhoni had made himself unavailable for the tour to the West Indies to serve his paramilitary regiment for two months and has given no clarity on whether and or not he intends to keep playing international cricket and if yes, the for how long.

Young 21-year old Rishabh Pant, who had been left out of the original World Cup squad in the beginning, only to be brought in when Shikhar Dhawan was ruled out due to injury in his thumb, has been named in all three squads for the tour next month. Prasad made it explicitly clear at the press conference that he(Rishabh Pant) will be the first choice Wicket-Keeper.

“He's (MS Dhoni) unavailable for this series but we had certain roadmaps and plans till World Cup,” Prasad said. “Subsequently, we've laid down few more plans and thought of giving as many opportunities to (Rishabh) Pant and to see that he is groomed. This is our plan right now.

"Retirement is purely individual. A legendary cricketer like MS Dhoni, he knows when to retire. But as far as the future roadmap is considered, that is in the hands of the selectors."

There has been a lot of speculation about Dhoni’s future since India’s exit from the World Cup after loss in the semi-final against New Zealand. Dhoni was held back after India’s chase and came in to bat with India hanging at 71 for 5, chasing 240. Dhoni was dismissed for 50 in the final over by a spectacular run out by Martin Guptill. The 2011 World Cup winning captain faced a lot criticism for his slow approach during the tournament, especially against the spin and though Prasad didn't comment on that aspect, he was clear that “grooming youngsters” is their primary objective now, and that Pant has their vote of confidence across all formats now.

"First of all, we don't have to discuss about it (strike rate in World Cup). Secondly, we are grooming youngsters now," Prasad said. "Rishabh Pant has not done anything wrong for his non-inclusion in the squads. Rishabh Pant is going to play all three formats. So, we need to manage his workload. So Wriddhiman Saha and KS Bharat will come into the picture."

Bharat, who missed out on the Test squad to Wriddhiman Saha, has played 11 unofficial Tests against the ‘A’ teams of West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, South Africa and England Lions, scored 686 runs with 3 tons and 2 half-centuries, held 41 catches and effected six stumpings and Prasad confirmed he had risen in the order to come very close to a national call-up for selection.

“It is a norm that when a senior or established player makes a comeback from injury, he is given a chance in the team,” Prasad explained. “So that’s how we have given a comeback opportunity to Wriddhiman Saha. But, I can tell with the stellar performances that KS Bharat has been doing in India A - he has scored three centuries and taken almost 50 dismissals - he was very close to making the cut.”