Gautam Gambhir feels MS Dhoni's chances of returning to the national side will be practically zero if the Indian Premier League gets cancelled this year.
The overwhelming uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus situation had earlier forced the IPL to be postponed by a couple of weeks but the prospects of holding a shortened competition appear bleak.
India is currently under a state of lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus while the number of COVID-19 cases in the country has continued to go up.
With no IPL action expected in 2020, Gambhir thinks Dhoni's days of turning out in Indian colours are past him.
“If the IPL does not happen this year, then it will become very difficult for MS Dhoni to make a comeback. On what basis can he [Dhoni] be selected since he’s not been playing for the last one or one and a half year,” the southpaw said on Star Sports Cricket Connected.
Dhoni has been on an extended sabbatical from cricket since he last played for India in their ill-fated semi-final clash against New Zealand at the World Cup.
Initially deciding to serve in the Indian Army's Parachute Regiment following the 50-over showpiece event, Dhoni has subsequently opted out of competitive matches.
In the absence of Dhoni, KL Rahul has emerged as the probable candidate destined to replace the former India skipper in the wicketkeeping job, according to Gambhir.
Rahul was India's glovesman for a few ODIs against New Zealand and Australia and has scored prolifically irrespective of his position in the batting order.
“Obviously his [Rahul’s] keeping is not as good as Dhoni’s, but if you are looking at T20 cricket, Rahul’s a utility player, can keep and bat at No. 3 or 4," Gambhir claimed.
"If the IPL does not happen, then Dhoni’s chances for a comeback look dim. Ultimately, you are representing India, so whoever dishes out the best performance and can win the match for India should play for the team.
“As far as his retirement plans go by, that’s his personal choice."
Despite the narrative surrounding Dhoni's imminent exit from Indian cricket, former teammate VVS Laxman has supported the 2011 World Cup-winning captain's presence in the IPL.
Discarding any doubts over his longevity in the shortest format, Laxman said Dhoni would undoubtedly serve with the Chennai Super Kings for the next two years.
“Not only this IPL, but he [Dhoni] will also probably play in the next couple of IPLs, and then we will take a call about his future as a cricketer,” he opined on the same show.
“Dhoni will be very clear, as far as his plans are concerned, I’m sure he must have communicated that with [captain] Virat Kohli, [head coach] Ravi Shastri immediately after the 2019 World Cup in England.
“The new selection committee will have to sit down with MS Dhoni and understand his future, as far as Indian cricket is concerned. But MS Dhoni will continue to play for CSK and do well for CSK."