MS Dhoni 2.0: Demolisher turns reinforcer
Beginning with the era of Viv Richards, to that of Virat Kohli, the standards of batsmanship have modernized, but the roots and the basics have remained the same. For, that is what defines cricket.
Batting stance, trigger movement, and balance in the art of batting are almost directly proportional to each other and the change in any of them could possibly affect the rest. The batting stance is more important than what people perceive. It is all about getting ready for the ball, and how the one will get in right balance before the ball is delivered.
These attributions speak volumes of mental space and confidence of the batsmen. One could almost tell what a batsman wants to do; whether it is to attack or defend. Moreover, a few of the great ones seemed to be 'floating' in the crease when they were in the form of their lives.
Diversity in the batting stance
Now, every individual has a different stance and trigger movement; every batsman has his own approach towards batting. Some batsmen just rely on power rather than balance.
Most of the Indian batsmen like to tap the bat until the bowler is just about reaching to the bowling crease, then set themselves to lift the bat naturally and thereafter let it come down at the right moment.
South Africans like to hold the bat up and get into the right position by late trigger movement just prior to the delivery. The likes of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, and AB de Villiers, all have it at the last moment.
Little tweak in the technique hampering Dhoni's slogging ability
The foremost reason behind writing this article is to put in perspective the reason behind MS Dhoni's failures in hitting the ball successfully out into the stands and his inability to finish the game off as he was doing in the past.
Specifically, in the ODI series against Sri Lanka in late 2017 and in the recently concluded series against South Africa, Dhoni did not do any wrong, but still, there was no hint of the destructive MSD.
It is the change he brought in his batting stance. It is not a major change, but it is kindred to tapping the bat on the ground. Previously he would tap the bat on the ground until the last moment; now he taps the bat just twice, then he holds the bat up until he swings it.
Albeit, he has the same backlift as before but by holding the bat up, he is not getting into the right position at the right moment. His downswing of the bat has also changed and it's coming at a wider angle.
Therefore, the flow and the balance are missing and sometimes he loses his shape, especially when fast bowlers bowl slower deliveries; he does not hold himself until the last moment. As a result, he either misses it or ends up finding an outside edge.
Troubles against slow left arm bowling
Kevin Pietersen and Dhoni both have had a problem with left-arm spin. Simply put, they do not hold the balanced position long or late enough. The slower the bowler, the more disciplined the batsman needs to be when it comes to waiting. At times Pietersen and Dhoni move a fraction too early, and the eyes get slightly out of line. After that, they try to work out everything just by hands.
Losing the balance
It sometimes looks as though Dhoni loses balance just slightly, but that is enough to cause trouble. Now, because his bat is coming down from outside his eye-line, the shot not only lacks power but is also goes squarer; no wonder why you are unlikely to see him hitting the ball dead straight over the bowler's head for a huge hit, as he often did in the past.
The first time Dhoni adopted this technique - the "less tapping the bat and more holding up" - was when he last played Test matches in South Africa, primarily to increase the reaction time and to tighten up his defence.
Therefore, I would call it more of a defensive style of batting, a style with which he has now gotten comfortable. He does not play as aggressively and freely as he had been playing before. He has now started to go just back and across, rather than to just 'stand and deliver' which is the hallmark of his batting.
It is appreciable that he still, at this age, wants to improve as a batsman and he may already know what is working for him and what is not. After looking at his recent performances, however, I believe it is this change he made in his stance - losing his old swag and flourish - that has made the difference.
Are we losing the old mighty destructive, hard-hitting Dhoni that we used to see on the cricket field? Remember, he is the tour de force for team India in their journey towards becoming the supergiant in the cricketing world. However, now, maybe his hands are not working as fast as his mind.
The only answer to above questions is Dhoni must find his 'mojo' back. He needs rhythm and momentum in his batting. His movements and bat-swing need to be in sync with the arrival of the ball. When they would, he will have his rhythm back.