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Explaining MS Dhoni's wicket-keeping: The unorthodox fox behind the stumps

An opinion piece on the reasons behind MS Dhoni's terrific agility behind the stumps, especially when keeping to the slower bowlers.

MS Dhoni wicket-keeping
Dhoni has his own style of wicket-keeping

The batsman has been beaten by the turn, and he looks rather bemused. He is bemused, not because he missed the delivery, but because the bails were off, much before the stimulus of getting back to the crease, originating from the brain, traversing through the nerves, reached his hands and legs.

Even spectators look puzzled, as they were not sure whether the batsman has been stumped or bowled. MS Dhoni is not even appealing to the leg umpire. He is walking down the pitch to appreciate the brilliance of his bowler. A confident MS Dhoni connotes the imminent finish of the batsman.

The third umpire was called, only to bolster Dhoni’s reputation of being the ultimate judge. Replays showed a terrific piece of glove work by the Indian captain. It was invisible to the normal eye. Even in replays, it was quick, much quicker than the futile attempt of the batsman to regain the body balance.

Dhoni – A maestro behind and close to the stumps

The World has witnessed some great wicket keepers in Mark Boucher and Adam Gilchrist, both of them capable of taking breath-taking catches out of thin air. Then came AB De Villiers and Brendon Mc Cullum, who were no less talented and skilled than the abovementioned, but couldn’t do it in the long run, owing to back pain and other fitness issues.

Now here is a man, who has been donning the gloves, along with the pressure of captaincy and lower order batting, for more than a decade. Not an acrobatic keeper 20 yards away from the stumps, but when it comes to standing up, he has been a hawk. He senses the faintest of edges and takes the best of reflex catches.

His batting had been nothing but brutal, captaincy, inexplicable to many. But if there is one thing that Indian ODI skipper does with surgical precision and lyrical mellowness, that’s stumping. He pouches the ball with perfection and whips the bails off in a jiffy. There’s little time for the batsman to react.

With 143 stumpings, he has surpassed even the best wicket-keepers of all time in stumping statistics. But what makes his stumping more effective than others? “Being unorthodox, sometimes help.” That’s all Dhoni has to say about that.

Yes, he is unorthodox in so many ways, but this time in a much fruitful manner.

Dhoni directing a throw to the stumps

To ensure clean catching, most wicket-keepers tend to pull their hands back a little after gathering the ball, but Dhoni prefers not to. By pulling hands backward, a keeper increases the time during which the velocity of the moving ball becomes zero, which in turn reduces the impact of the collision. But the ‘Mahi way’ is a bit different.

He waits for the ball patiently, and once it beats the willow, his concentration reaches its peak, and then he allows the ball to enter into his gloves. Now here is the key.

He won’t allow the ball to rest in his hand even for a minuscule fraction of a second, as once the ball touches his palm, he immediately moves his hands towards the stumps, with one hand pressing the ball against the other in a direction towards the stumps.

This ensures that the ball is always in motion while sandwiching it in the hands safeguards it from bouncing off the gloves. Quick hands, aided by strong shoulders dislodge the bails in no time.

An astute mind

Dhoni’s brilliance behind the stumps has also resulted in numerous crucial run-outs. At times, he just diverts the throw from the fielder to the stumps with impeccable accuracy, while he is also capable of taking the throw cleanly and destroying the stumps in a flash.

We saw Indian captain’s astute mind when he outfoxed Mitchell Marsh by maintaining a poker face, which gave no clue to the running Aussie all-rounder that the throw from the fielder has been coming in his direction.

With 685 international dismissals, Dhoni is now 3rd in the list of wicket-keepers with the most number of dismissals. He hasn’t had the luxury of fast bowlers like Brett Lee or Makhaya Ntini who could consistently induce edges, but the quality of spinners in his team has definitely helped him in becoming the most successful keeper close behind the stumps.

His hitting skills might have waned of late, but with his shrewd captaincy and immaculate wicket-keeping, he is still an asset to the Indian side in the shorter formats of the game.

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