New Delhi, Oct 15: Notwithstanding criticism that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is losing his midas touch, former Indian stumper Nayan Mongia believes the Indian skipper is still the safest wicketkeeper in the world and should lead India at least till next year's ICC World T20.
After facing a barrage of criticism for his lack of batting form and leadership qualities, Dhoni answered his critics with an unbeaten match-winning 92 against South Africa in the second one-dayer in Indore and Mongia believes that the Jharkhand powerhouse still has a lot to offer to Indian cricket. ('We are lucky to play under Dhoni')
"It's just a matter of time. I always feel that the captain is as good as his team. If the team is not doing well then you start blaming the captain. He is a wonderful player. His average, which is over 50, speaks for him," Mongia told PTI. (People wait with open swords: Dhoni)
"As a batsman he is just phenomenal and he has been like this for years. So I don't see any reason why people are criticising him," Mongia said.
Asked about the wicket-keeping talent in world cricket, the former stumper said, "After (Adam) Gilchrist retired, we have Dhoni, who is very good. You have (Quinton) de Kock in South Africa, AB (de Villiers) in T20 is very good. But if you see now in world cricket, Dhoni is the safest keeper around."
Despite many calling for a change of guard in ODIs and T20s after Virat Kohli took over the reins in Test matches, Mongia said Dhoni is India's best bet in the shorter formats of the game.
Let Dhoni decide when he wants to retire
"It is very difficult for me to say how many years Dhoni has cricket left in him. He is the right person to see how long he wants to continue. But I don't see any problem for him till at least the T20 World Cup next year. He is just fantastic and I think he should be given the honour of deciding his retirement," Mongia, who represented India in 44 Tests and 140 ODIs during his six-year-long career, added.
On the topic of finding a backup for Dhoni, Mongia, who took 99 catches behind the stumps and inflicted 8 stumpings in the longer format, said even though Wriddhiman Saha and Naman Ojha are worthy options, Robin Uthappa's skills still attract him more.
"It is true that over a period of time we will have to look for a keeper other than Dhoni, especially for ODIs and T20s, For Test matches Wriddhiman Saha is there. Naman Ojha has got an opportunity and he looks decent. So these two players have been around for some time. They have been doing well for India A as well. So I am sure with all these three keepers, Dhoni, Saha and Ojha, we are in safe hands," Mongia said.
'Big fan of Robin Uthappa'
"I was really looking forward to Robin Uthappa when he got a chance in Zimbabwe. Somehow he didn't live up to the expectations. Otherwise he would have been ideal choice for T20 and ODI format. I am a big fan of him," Mongia said.
An able bat himself, Mongia, who has a highest score of 152 in Test matches, also believes that the current Indian lot is a talented bunch but inconsistency has been their bane against South Africa so far.
"See we all knew that it's going to be a very tight series against South Africa. Expectations are very high from India playing in their backyard. It's always going to be advantage India, but somehow all the three departments are not clicking for India at one time, whether it batting, bowling or fielding," Mongia said.
"South Africa, on the other hand, has risen to the occasion. In the first T20, batting took the responsibility, in the second game bowlers took the charge. Likewise in the first one-dayer (Kagiso) Rabada bowled exceptionally well, the fielding is amazing. That is why I always feel that the captain is as good as the team," he opined.
Mongia stated that it had been a very inconsistent performance by Indian batsmen so far in this series and the bowling has looked lacklustre.
Praise for Ashwin
"Besides (Ravichandran) Ashwin I don't think any bowler can make an impression against this formidable South African line-up," he said.
Praising the young Indian batting line-up, the cricketer-turned-analyst said in-house competition is bringing out the best among the lot.
"The current lot is ready to play in any position at any given time as the competition is stiff. They get, whether it's (Ajinkya) Rahane, Virat (Kohli), (Suresh) Raina or Rohit Sharma, they just want to get an opportunity to play for India and start playing well. (Cheteshwar) Pujara had to open in Sri Lanka and he got a hundred, Mongia said.
"So it's just a matter of time before our batsman become more consistent and start delivering. And it all depends on the captain and the management to decide the batting order," he said.
On the point of changing roles of a wicketkeeper, Mongia opined that the game and the roles have drastically changed in every department.
"Why single out a keeper? I think everybody's roles have changed. The game has moved forward. The batsmen, the bowler, they all have to contribute in different capacities as well. So if a bowler, bats well or a batsman bowls well it is always a bonus. Specialised keepers who can bat is always an advantage for the team," he said.