Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s enigmatic persona, his ability to the read situations and change the course of the match with an inspired bowling change and the nerves of steel to take a chase to its logical end have all been talked about so often. But what flies under the radar (if such a thing is possible with Dhoni) is the former Indian skipper’s ability behind the stumps. His genius is front of the wickets somewhat overshadows his brilliance with the gloves.
Yes, the commentators would speak about a lightning fast stumpings and replays of that dismissal would be shown till the discussion moves on. What remains constant, however is that, donning those big gloves for over a decade for India, Dhoni’s wicket-keeping skills still remain unmatched.
Dhoni rarely mesmerised you with the acrobatic dives that a Wriddhiman Saha or a Dinesh Karthik could boast off to grab an improbable looking catch. Instead, he would make the job quite simple as he had the knack of being a step ahead of the situation. An exceptionally quick reaction time usually ensured that he rarely needed a last-minute lunge to take a clincher.
A lot of questions were raised about Dhoni’s abilities behind the stumps when he started his career as an international cricketer and many experts had then expressed doubts over whether the Jharkhand-lad would be exposed in Test cricket.
However, he not only survived that initial scrutiny but sits third in the total number of dismissals in international cricket with 829 to his name, behind only South Africa’s Mark Boucher (998) and Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakarra (905).
Dhoni's record behind the stumps across formats
Former India stumper and chief selector Kiran More spoke about that evolution a few months ago.
“We saw the talent in him. But his ability to work hard and improve made him what he is. He had some problems when he started out. Questions were asked about his wicketkeeping skills. However, he worked very hard on his game and kept getting better with every game.
“He [Dhoni] is always one step ahead of the game. That makes him effective. Be it standing up to the fast bowlers or working with the spinners when they are bowling, he knew what the others were thinking. He could guess what the batsman was trying to do and the bowler was trying to do.”
This meant that Dhoni would guide the bowlers on how to bowl to a particular batsman and plot their dismissals, something the likes of Kuldeep Yadav and other spinners have spoken about a lot.
And one can count many instances where Dhoni the wicket-keeper changed the course of the game with his quick thinking; be it the last ball run-out against Bangladesh in the World T20 match in 2016 by running in to break the stumps or his positioning behind the wickets during the shoot-out against Pakistan in the 2007 World T20 group stage game.
For those who have seen Dhoni on the tour over the last decade or so, the one question that was often asked was when did the Indian captain practice his glovework. He would rarely be seen following a routine behind the stumps during pre-game practice sessions or even in the nets.
India’s fielding coach R Sridhar had recently explained Dhoni’s practice routine before a match. “He does one drill. He just asks someone to throw the ball at a plastic spring stump, so the ball just deviates and he catches it as a nick. That is one drill he does before every game. Sometimes he might join slip catching, too.”
And those quick reflexes have been on full display, especially in the latter half of his career, when Dhoni pulled off some sensational stumpings. He currently holds the record of most stumpings in ODIs and T20Is. An apart from stumpings, the no-look removal of bails to catch batsmen short of the crease has become his signature move too.
But more than the numbers, what stands out is his ability to grab the ball and break the stumps in one action.
Dhoni, in the past, has credited the tennis-ball cricket experience for his stumping abilities. “I think it’s something that’s come from tennis ball cricket. But you still have to do the basics and graduate to that level. If you want to keep like that you can make mistakes; so I still think basics are most important,” he said.”
You can enjoy some of the incredible dismissals by wicketkeeper Dhoni here:
And finally, who can forget this moment when Dhoni sprinted and broke Bangladeshi hearts?
(Video footage courtesy: bcci.tv and iplt20.com)
Here’s a compilation of his best stumpings:
A tribute from ICC to Dhoni’s wicket-keeping after the former India captain announced retirement: