MS Dhoni's India future and three other challenges for coach Ravi Shastri

Now that the former India captain stays on as head coach for another two years, here are the things he needs to work on

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 10, 2019, India's head coach Ravi Shastri looks at the playing area as rain stops play during the 2019 Cricket World Cup first semi-final between India and New Zealand at Old Trafford in Manchester, northwest England. Former Indian cricketer Ravi Shastri has been reappointed as head coach of the men's cricket team, a cricket board selection panel announced on August 16. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE
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Rather unsurprisingly, Ravi Shastri was retained as India’s head coach earlier in the week.

It was unsurprising because captain Virat Kohli, who seems to wield a tremendous amount of clout in Indian cricket at the moment, is said to have made clear his choice: he wanted to continue his excellent working relationship with Shastri rather than have to start from scratch with Tom Moody or Mike Hesson, the other candidates in the fray.

But now that the former India captain has been given a two-year contract, he will have a clear idea of what he wants to achieve during his tenure. If India continue to produce good results on the field, he could well be at the helm when the 2023 World Cup gets under way in India.

Strengthen ODI middle-order

Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli will continue to bat at Nos 1, 2 and 3 so long as they are consistently scoring runs. And so long as they are consistently scoring runs, India will win more often than not. The problem with this winning formula is the excessive dependence the team have on the trio.

Dhawan was injured, while both Rohit and Kohli got out cheaply during their World Cup semi-final defeat to New Zealand last month. The middle-order was not strong enough to guide the team home under pressure.

Shastri needs to make bolstering the middle-order his pet project. Two years is long enough time to mentor long-term prospects for the Nos 4 to 6 positions. He has, in Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer, two promising candidates. But he should ensure they realise their potential.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - September 18, 2018: L-R Hardik Pandya, MS Dhoni, Shoaib Akhtar and Ravi Shastri before the game between India and Hong Kong in the Asia cup. Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 at Sports City, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Find clarity on Dhoni’s future

There is little doubt Pant is the hot favourite to replace Dhoni as India’s wicketkeeper-batsman over the long term. But what about Dhoni’s own future?

At 38, there is an argument to be made that he does not have a whole lot to offer Indian cricket. But aside from being the team’s master tactician whose advice Kohli heavily relies on, Dhoni’s importance as a mentor to Pant cannot be understated either.

That said, he needs to command his place in the side as a batsman. Shastri needs to sit down with Kohli and Dhoni to figure out his future and how it can benefit the team.

Split teams but back players

The selectors are well on their way to having separate teams for the three formats. It is a good thing, too, given the demands of modern-day cricket. But under Kohli, there has also been a tendency to change combinations within a given series, which has arguably not helped feel players secure. Shastri has two tasks then: one, try to discourage too much changing, and two, play the role of comforter-in-chief to those who have been dropped.

Ensure India avoid 'chokers' tag

India have not won an ICC tournament since lifting the Champions Trophy in 2013. While reaching the semi-finals consistently is a good thing, it is the least expected of a team who have more money and resources than anyone else.

Shastri needs to look into the reasons why India have been routinely beaten at the business end, or else, it will be India – and not South Africa – who will be labelled ‘chokers’.