Decoding MS Dhoni’s innovative wicket-keeping techniques

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Decoding MS Dhoni’s innovative wicket-keeping techniques

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Bastab K Parida

09/08/2017

Ankit Sharma comes around the wicket and puts in a shortish delivery outside off stump. On seeing the width on offer, Manan Vohra decides to attempt a late dab square of the wicket. However, he fails to take into account the skill and intelligence of the man behind the stumps - a certain MS Dhoni.

Even before the ball has reached the willow, Dhoni has already read the batsman's switch from the front foot to the back foot and in a flash of a second, almost like a martial art expert, kicked out his right leg and stopped the ball dead in its tracks - shades of his days as a school team goalkeeper. MS Dhoni’s beautiful "leg-flick cum block" went viral on social media during the 2016 IPL and the world, as usual, went gaga over the brilliance of MS “lightning quick” Dhoni. It was one of the many instances that MS Dhoni decided to pull the rabbit out of the hat to give his fans the primal joy. Even though, THAT maneuver left his fans with yet another Dhoni tale to tell, it was the technical nuance of the effort that caught the eye of experts. 

If you clearly observe the video, it was evident that Dhoni started moving his leg way before Sharma’s ball had even reached Vohra, which means he had anticipated precisely the shot Vohra was going to play from the Punjab opener’s body position. The former Indian skipper kept his body constant while extending his legs. The interesting thing about the technique was that even though his body was extended to the extreme, his hands were exactly where they needed to be. It was a revealing aspect of Dhoni’s keeping as he made sure that if, Vohra decided not to hit the ball to gully, or got a thin edge, he would still be in trouble, even when Dhoni had a leg in the air. So, by creating the angle with his extended foot, Dhoni managed to double his reach while having both his hands and legs in perfect positions to stop the ball, almost like a right angle triangle. Think of it in a normal sense and then put all your extraordinary analytical power to judge the situation. You will have to accept that this was an extraordinary maneuverer or as India’s fielding coach R Sridhar, then simply explained that as, “That’s the Mahi way, and it’s one step ahead of the regular wicket-keeping manual.”

Undoubtedly, a wicketkeeper is the best man to judge a bowler or a batsman, but how many times in the history of the sport, have we seen someone with such situation awareness and intelligence. And that is precisely what has made the soft-spoken Jharkhand player literally the best “stumper” the world has ever seen. In the recently concluded ODI series against Sri Lanka, Dhoni effected his 100th ODI stumping that officially put him at the top of the hierarchy.

So, what has made him, in the words of Michael Slater, “the fastest gloves in the west”, a phenomenon, is a pretty difficult one to decode. His technique defied the very fundamental of earth’s existence – Newton’s laws of motion that we all had studied during our schooling, which pertains to the behavior of objects for which all existing forces are not balanced.

The law states, “The acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables - the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object. The acceleration of an object depends directly upon the net force acting upon the object, and inversely upon the mass of the object. As the force acting upon an object is increased, the acceleration of the object is increased. As the mass of an object is increased, the acceleration of the object is decreased.”

So, as per the law, while a taking a catch in a cricket match, one has to move his hands in the backward direction to smoothly absorb its momentum and prevent it from popping back out. However, with Dhoni, it is the other way around as he doesn’t take his hands backward at all. And instead what he does is pure genius as he moved his hands towards the ball to receive it. Usually, when you do this, your hands will have to absorb a lot of force as a leather ball travels up to 80-100 kms per hour. While many believe that it will end up making a giant red spot on the body, and sometimes, even can break the bones, Dhoni does it by pulling his wrists in the backward direction.

The trait helps him increase the time to slow down the ball and by then, his hands are already close to the stumps. So, Dhoni remains successful in striking the stumps at the right time, instead of covering the entire distance. Take the stumping off Sabbir Rahman in the World T20 match against Bangladesh to the count. Not only was he quick in collecting the ball down leg and bringing it back but he timed it perfectly just when Rahman’s leg rose from the crease. This was the case of pure instinct as much was the game awareness. Another example of Dhoni’s pure class was that he even managed to whip off the bails in a flash to dismiss Ricky Ponting in 2007 and the bowler was Irfan Pathan, who used to clock 138kmph easily back then. 

Over the years, apart from Dhoni, India have a fairly illustrious list of wicketkeepers - Syed Kirmani, Kiran More, Farokh Engineer, Nayan Mongia. Among them, Dhoni, Kirmani, and Engineer are widely regarded as the best that India has ever had, while More and Mongia didn’t fair that badly behind the stumps in the post-Kirmani era. But when Indian selectors decided to jettison Mongia for good in 2001, MSK Prasad, Saba Karim, Vijay Dahiya, Sameer Dighe, Deep Dasgupta, Ajay Ratra, Dinesh Karthik, and Parthiv Patel had all donned the gloves, but, none were that good to contain the terrific leg spinners of Anil Kumble and doosras of Harbhajan Singh. Then, Dhoni arrived on the stage and with a home-grown technique, managed to send the Pakistani pacers for a leather hunt, in only the fifth ODI of his career that made him the darling of the masses overnight. 

Although his leadership and supreme ability to finish off the games from any precarious situations contributed to his cult status, his safe pair of gloves and lightening quick stumpings also personified his legacy. And the 100th ODI stumpings is just the mere affirmation of that the Mahi way is unique and not easy to emulate.

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