MS Dhoni’s wicket-keeping, we have to say, has stood out more often than not, along with his batting, on and off-field demeanour, and his way with words at post-match presentation ceremonies and press conferences. Like every one of us, Dhoni, who has turned 35 today, also has evolved over the course of his 12-year international cricket career – which has reached its twilight stage. The stage of Dhoni’s career should, however, not coerce us to overlook his achievements, as a skipper and also as an individual.
Just three years after he made his first international appearance, against Bangladesh at Chittagong, Dhoni led India to the World Twenty20 (WT20) title in 2007. He also took India to the summit of the ICC Test rankings in 2009, led the Men in Blue to the glory of lifting the 50-over world cup after a gap of 28 years in 2011, and the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013. Therefore, within a span of six years, Dhoni had done and seen them all, as a skipper in particular. Dhoni’s achievements, and probably his personality too, have been revered by players of his and previous generations, with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Michael Hussey, Mahela Jayawardene, Alastair Cook, Ian Chappell having very good words to say about the 35-year-old.
Dhoni is one among a raft of international cricketers who have demonstrated very clearly that you do not need to have good technique to be successful at the highest level of the game. Much of Dhoni’s success as a wicket-keeper batsman and as India’s skipper, can be attributed to his instincts, without which I don’t think he would have been able to enjoy the magnitude of success he has. Of late, Dhoni’s instincts have done him more harm than good, but during the period between 2007 and 2013, Dhoni was a master at pulling a rabbit out of a hat and catching his opponents off guard through his on and off-field decisions. I think this integral aspect of Dhoni, has what had quite a lot of cricket followers calling him ‘lucky’. On Quora, there have been numerous questions asked about Dhoni’s Midas touch and whether his successes have been a result of ‘luck’.
Shifting focus to MS Dhoni’s wicket-keeping, have you ever wondered why it fascinates you? This article gives you a lowdown on the Indian ODI and T20I skipper’s glovework and why it has grabbed people’s eyes on numerous occasions.
Reason behind cricket followers’ fascination with MS Dhoni’s Wicket-keeping
Wicket-keepers get noticed only when they drop a catch, miss a stumping, or take an acrobatic catch. Otherwise, they are largely left in the shadow of the battle between the batsman and the bowler. Dhoni, however, is a little different in how he affects proceedings by his sheer presence behind the stumps. Whenever Dhoni stands up to the stumps, while a spinner or a medium-pacer is in operation, the batsman has an added element to contend with. He has to be extremely mindful of his balance, losing which could see him being stumped, and batsmen can seldom play the cheeky dabs to third-man and fine-leg with as much freedom as they might be able to if another keeper is standing up to the stumps. Such is the reputation Dhoni has earned himself with his fast hands and ability to react quickly to an unfolding situation while he is keeping wickets especially.
The dismissal of Sabbir Rahman in Bangladesh’s one-run defeat to India in the ICC World Twenty20 (WT20) 2016 Group 2 game in Bengaluru, fits the aforementioned elucidation perfectly. Suresh Raina had bowled a wide down the leg-side and Rahman did not bother playing the totally harmless ball. He watched the ball travel through to Dhoni, delighted by the freebie. The ostensible slackness brought about a loss in concentration and before he knew, Rahman had lost balance, even if for a fraction of a second. Dhoni, on the other hand, was agile to Rahman’s movements and picked his moment to dislodge the bails, in the split second Rahman was off balance. The third-umpire’s decision was OUT! and Rahman was on his way back to the dug-out, not only due to the slackness caused by Raina’s delivery but also because of the presence of mind shown by Dhoni. This was another one of those occasions when Dhoni showcased his wonderful instincts and vigilance – both aspects which were lacking from Rahman’s end.
Now, technically speaking, a keeper needs fast hands, especially to inflict a stumping when standing up to the stumps. Dhoni has inflicted 89 stumpings in his 278-match One-Day International (ODI) career, and his tally has been bettered only by Kumar Sangakkara (99), with the former Srilankan Great having played a 126 ODIs more than India’s most successful captain, who has a chance to become the wicket-keeper with most stumpings in ODI cricket. In the overall stumpings (in ODIs, T20Is and Tests) comparison between this sub-continent wicket-keeping duo, Dhoni beats Sangakkara by 148-144. ‘Fast hands’ has been reiterated a few times in this article and Dhoni’s hands, and probably his legs as well, are major assets of his. They come to his aid even when he is batting. Because, without fast hands, Dhoni the batsman, who rarely looks to time the ball and often plunders it, will be unable to hit the kind of sixes he does. And his Bolt-esque legs help him steal twos and threes with utter nonchalance, even at this stage of his career.
Coming to the crux of this article, Dhoni has his own technique, which, let us face it, has benefitted him more often than not. But one of his bad habits as a wicket-keeper is, not getting to the stumps to collect a throw. And guess what, Dhoni has mastered camouflaging and fascinating the onlookers, even with a bad habit of his.
A good habit of mine made taking the bails off to run a batsman out, look prosaic.
I played as a wicket-keeper for my school and college teams, and I was always told to come up to the stumps after a ball had been bowled. So, even if the batsman had defended a ball and hadn’t looked to take a run, I would get to the stumps, utter a few exhorting words to the bowler, and come back to my mark. It was a basic taught to me and soon became a habit! Therefore, I did not have to force myself and be mindful of needing to get to the stumps whenever the batsman had played the ball to third-man or fine-leg or to any part of the ground, for that matter, and looked to take a single, couple or a three. And, this good habit of mine made taking the bails off to run a batsman out, look rather prosaic. For Dhoni, however, this activity is a lot different and what makes MS Dhoni’s wicket-keeping appear fascinating.
This habit has invaded Dhoni’s system in the last two years especially and Dhoni’s absence at the stumps, to collect a throw, has proved to be a bit of a regularity. But, as aforementioned, his bad habit has not cost Dhoni or India on a lot of occasions. You can also go on to say that, batsmen have become extremely wary of this Dhoni habit and they can be seen sprinting to Dhoni’s end, even if the fielder has yet to release the ball. MS Dhoni’s wicket-keeping has had such an aura in general, but been accentuated a lot more by this bad habit of his.
Look where Dhoni is, in the image above: at least a metre away from where the stumps are and where he ideally needs to be. He managed to run Jacques Kallis out, so his bad habit proved effective in this instance. But, can you imbibe how dramatic he has made the whole situation look? If he had been behind the stumps, he could have gathered the throw on the bounce and dislodged the bails with minimum fuss. Dhoni has tried to not give Kallis a chance to complete the second run, but by opting to gather the throw well in front of the stumps, before swivelling and having a shy at the stumps, he could have squandered the run-out opportunity .
Here is another picture of Dhoni’s positioning when he has had to collect a throw. Mitchell Johnson might well have been run-out if Dhoni was up to the stumps, as Dhoni would have saved precious seconds he took to gather the ball, get close to the wicket and then throw the ball on to the stumps. In simple terms, an opportunity to run the batsman out was spurned because of a bad habit of Dhoni.
Dhoni tries to be effective and instances such as these are straight out of Dhoni’s textbook. MS Dhoni’s wicket-keeping record proves that one need not really be an Adam Gilchrist or Mark Boucher, to be successful and ultimately, to help the team in taking wickets by holding on to catches and inflicting stumpings. From cricket followers and spectators’ point of view, the aforementioned instances are proofs of how MS Dhoni’s wicket-keeping can appear extremely theatrical.