Insisting that performance should be the only criteria while selecting a player in the national team, Gautam Gambhir has said under-pressure Mahendra Singh Dhoni can play as long as he wishes but needs to perform.

Time is running out for Dhoni as he has looked like a pale shadow of his former self for quite some time now. Arguably the greatest finisher the game has ever witnessed, Dhoni managed to score only 278 runs in 13 matches at an average of 27.80 in 2016 and the ongoing year has not been that good with the bat either.

The World Cup-winning captain began 2017 with a stupendous 134-run knock against England but has struggled to dish out consistent performance.

After not getting much time to bat in the Champions Trophy, he had scored a match-winning half-century in the third ODI against West Indies in July but was severely criticised for his 114-ball 54 runs knock in the fourth game as India lost that game by 11 runs while chasing a modest target of 190.

With pressure mounting on the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman, Gambhir has said the only way the former captain can play the 2019 World Cup is if he keeps on performing before stating that performance should be the sole criteria for selection in the team.

“The only way he can survive till the 2019 World Cup is if he keeps performing. That should be the criteria for everyone irrespective of whether he is MS Dhoni or someone like Manish Pandey who has just been selected for the country, it doesn’t matter.  Okay, he has done something in the past but that’s past. You can keep playing till you want to if you keep performing,” Gambhir told ESPNcricinfo.

Recently, chief selector MSK Prasad had said Dhoni is no more an automatic choice in the team before making it clear that another failure from the wicketkeeper would force the selectors to look out for other alternatives.

“Discussions happen about everybody. It is not just MS Dhoni (or anybody else). When we pick, when we talk about combinations, we talk about everybody. Whenever a player keeps ageing, for example, I was just reading Agassi’s book, Open, his life actually started after 30 years. Till then he won two or three titles. His actual life started after that. He lived with media pressure, ‘When are you going to retire?’,” Prasad had said.

“But he played till 36 and he won so many Grand Slams. So you never know. If he (Dhoni) is delivering, why not? If he is not, we will have to look at alternatives,” he had added.

Meanwhile, Gambhir further said that dropping Karthik from the squad is a ‘massive loss’ for the team.

Karthik had returned to the team for the Champions Trophy and the West Indies after a brilliant domestic season. He led Tamil Nadu to their fifth Vijay Hazare title by scoring 112 in the final against Bengal and had finished the 50-overs tournament as the top run-getter averaging 86.71 while scoring 607 runs in nine matches. In the Ranji Trophy, he scored 704 runs in 10 matches at an average of 54.15.

He continued his red-hot form in the Duleep Trophy as well where he scored 211 runs in the three games he played for India Blue. He also led Tamil Nadu to Deodhar Trophy title by scoring 247 runs in three matches. His form in the IPL was equally impressive where he amassed 361 runs in 14 outings at an average of a shade over 36.

“Somewhere, I feel that Dinesh Karthik missing out has been very big. Massive loss for us because he wasn’t given a lot of opportunities. Whenever he got that opportunity, he did well in West Indies. He could have been your backup wicketkeeping option as well,” Gambhir insisted.