Who will don the gloves after M. S. Dhoni?

None of the wicketkeeper-batsmen tried out by India in the last couple of years have emerged as his clear successor.

Big shoes to fill: M. S. Dhoni smiles at a practice session in Mumbai on Sunday.   -  AP

Wriddhiman Saha. Parthiv Patel. Dinesh Karthik. Naman Ojha. Sanju Samson. Rishabh Pant. Ishan Kishan. K. S. Bharat.

In the last couple of years, these wicketkeeper-batsmen (batsmen-wicketkeeper in most cases) have donned the gloves for India and India A across formats. However, for a variety of reasons, none of them have emerged as M. S. Dhoni’s clear successor.

As a result, with the selectors having sounded the bugle of moving on from Dhoni in two of the three formats — he was excluded from the next two Twenty20 International (T20I) series — the five wise men and the team management are still far from certain of this crucial slot in India’s starting XI in all three formats. Dhoni is all set to keep wickets in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) till the 2019 World Cup but his form with the willow is a major concern. Add to that his lack of game-time and the fact that he is 37, and the time is indeed running out for him.

Pant vs Karthik

The selection panel, incidentally headed by a former wicketkeeper, has decided to try out Pant and Karthik behind the wickets in India’s six T20Is in November. While Pant has shown promise with the bat in his limited outings at the highest level, Karthik — who made way for Dhoni almost 15 years ago — has reinvented himself as a batsman. Neither of them, however, has emerged as a reliable hand behind the stumps; both will be hoping to be a front-runner for the slot in the shortest format with strong showing against Windies and Australia.

Read: Dhoni will play the 2019 World Cup, says Carl Hooper

When it comes to Test matches, however, the race is still open, thanks to Wriddhiman Saha’s apparently mishandled injury. The only specialist wicketkeeper, and a useful lower-order batsman, Saha has been missing from action ever since played a Test in South Africa in the first week of the year. His botched up rehabilitation, which resulted in a shoulder surgery, means he is unlikely to a comeback to domestic cricket till the year-end.

Work in progress

Saha’s absence made the selectors go back to Patel, who incidentally made his international debut even before Pant and Kishan would have started playing cricket. Despite showing courage with the willow, Patel failed to grab the opportunity with the gloves and the selectors went back to Karthik. Midway through the England series, Karthik was replaced with Pant, whose wicketkeeping is still a work in progress when it comes to long-form cricket. Pant isn’t the only one in this category. The fringe wicketkeepers — Kishan and Bharat — are far from being finished products when it comes to their wicketkeeping skills.

Over the last decade, with the additional impetus on a player being required to contribute to at least two of the three main departments of the game, specialist wicketkeeping is fast becoming a thing of the past.

As Dhoni perhaps enters the final phase of his glittering international career, it will be interesting to see if the national selectors somehow find a reliable replacement any time soon.