The 18th over, as South Africa chased a revised target at the Wanderers, was eventful. That was when David Miller got two lives. That over by Yuzvendra Chahal became a major talking point of the fourth ODI.
His next, however, saw a breathtaking piece of cricket, effected by MS Dhoni. The leggie once again bowled slow through the air to Miller and the ball sneaked through the gate, as the batsman attempted a heave. Dhoni whipped off the bails in a flash despite being momentarily unsighted by the turn and the batsman’s pivot. Only Miller’s back foot didn’t pop out of the crease and he survived. But a shake of the head suggested disbelief, and also his admiration for the great gloveman.
Rewind to September 2017, Eden Gardens. Chahal made one drift down leg against Glenn Maxwell. The Aussie charged down the track, but beaten by the length, he tried to clip it off his pads. The ball hit his right pad and went between his legs. Dhoni collected it diving to his left and in a reverse movement he smashed the stumps, in the blink of an eye. Maxwell was gone.
The Johannesburg game came on the heels of Dhoni’s landmark achievement in the third ODI at Cape Town, when the 36-year-old became the first Indian to reach 400 dismissals in 50-over cricket. After 316 ODIs, he has 295 catches and 106 stumpings. Nobody has effected more stumpings in this format, and according to the Indian team fielding coach R Sridhar, Dhoni’s physics-defying glovework could be a subject of a cricket research.
“Dhoni has got his own style, which is so much, so much successful for him. I think we can do research into his style of wicketkeeping and I would like to call it the ‘Mahi-way’. And there are so many things to learn from that and there are so many things which the young keepers may not even be able to contemplate. He is unique in his own way,” Sridhar said on Monday.
Not just young ‘keepers, even the experienced ones are in Dhoni’s awe. Last year, in an interview with The Indian Express, Wriddhiman Saha spoke about his failed attempts to ape Dhoni’s style in the nets. “It’s his (Dhoni) natural. I tried at the nets a few times but couldn’t perfect it,” Saha had said.
That Dhoni has redefined white-ball ‘keeping, especially against the spinners, is now a cliché. Sridhar spoke about one aspect of his genius — hand speed. “He (Dhoni) has got great hands. Definitely the best glovesman as far as wicketkeeping to the spinners goes. His hands work at lightning speed. That’s very unique to him. It’s great to watch. At the same time, for somebody who doesn’t have that skill, it’s a big challenge to get there. He is unbelievable,” the fielding coach analysed.
This paper earlier reported how Sridhar had approached Dhoni with childlike excitement after India’s 2016 World T20 game against Australia. The then India captain’s stumping of David Warner to the bowling of R Ashwin was mind-boggling enough for the team’s fielding coach to react that way. Dhoni had loosened his left hand very slightly to allow the ball to bounce back into his grasp and effected the stumping, all in less than a fraction of a second. His awareness and execution had offset the fact that he was unsighted by the advancing Warner and the ball’s trajectory. In technical terms, that loosening of the hand, as Dinesh Karthik described, was the ‘give’ part. “That’s Dhoni’s genius. More than his glovework, it’s the awareness and intelligence of the sport,” Sridhar had said then, adding that Dhoni is “at least three frames quicker”.
In the IPL that year, Dhoni became the ‘Pythagoras’ on the field, stretching his right leg 90 degrees and cutting the angle to stop a dab down to short third man against the spinners.
At the Wanderers, in the penultimate delivery of the Indian innings, Dhoni clipped Chris Morris past square leg but saw AB de Villiers charging towards the ball in the deep field like a terrier. Dhoni had to go for the second and he completed it, running some yards faster than his partner Kuldeep Yadav, a 23-year-old. Sridhar didn’t speak about Dhoni’s fitness today, for that would have been stating the obvious.
How Dhoni does it: Pushes his hands towards the ball. Saves time.
Takes the ball in front of the stumps, especially when throws are a little wide, and flicks it back to effect run-outs.
The late Bob Woolmer was the proponent of this theory.
His 90-degree leg-stretch at times behind the stumps cuts the angle and prevents singles to short/third man against spinners.
His reading of batsmen and peripheral vision allows him time.