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When MS Dhoni decided to hand the gloves to Rahul Dravid and bowl himself, he gave an example of the oddities and quirks that make cricket such a compelling sport
July 22, 2011
The concept of 'do it yourself' was brought to Test cricket at Lord's. MS Dhoni is a captain who leads from the front in everything he does; it's part of the reason why Graeme Swann picked him out as the key figure for this series ahead of Sachin Tendulkar. Swann, though, probably wasn't talking of Dhoni's bowling yet he came within one decision review of taking the 14th Test wicket by a wicketkeeper.
However, given the way Dhoni plays his cricket perhaps it shouldn't have come as a surprise. He has an international wicket to his name - West Indian Travis Dowlin was the unlucky batsman during the 2009 Champions Trophy - and in that match he brought himself on in the 17th over with the score at 49 for 4. The real surprise was that Rahul Dravid had given warning of Dhoni's cunning plan in his pre-play interview when he revealed he expected to be keeping wicket at some stage.
So when the players emerged after lunch to start the afternoon session with Dravid wearing the pads and gloves it was clear the captain was going to live up to his word. He preferred himself to Suresh Raina's tidy offspin, which already has nine Test wickets, while in days gone by Tendulkar would purvey some useful swingers.
It was the fourth time Dhoni had bowled in a Test innings, but the previous three occasions had been one-over spells at the end of dead Tests. This was a match at a crucial juncture with India needing a breakthrough before the second new ball. On he came at the Pavilion End - from where Glenn McGrath among others have wreaked havoc - and marked out his run. And of all the batsmen to bowl to it was Kevin Pietersen.
Facing a cricketer who rarely bowls is awkward. There is often precious little to gain for the batsman and only a reputation to be damaged. That situation is multiplied for a player like Pietersen, whose every move is being dissected as he tries to rediscover his best form. "It was really difficult to get through," Pietersen said. "Whenever a keeper comes on it's pretty hard and he got the ball to swing both ways. He's a very talented man."
Having battled his way to 71 off 157 balls - including his slowest Test fifty - falling to Dhoni would have made Pietersen's problems with Jeevan Mendis, the part-time Sri Lanka legspinner who removed him three times in the recent one-day series, seem barely worth a mention. The first ball of the spell brought an lbw appeal and although Pietersen was outside off stump he looked nervous throughout the over. Then, with his ninth delivery, Dhoni made one tail into Pietersen who didn't quite play the line and Dravid, unlike on the opening day when he missed two catches, gathered a low chance.
India appealed as one and, after suitable consideration to add to the drama, Billy Bowden raised his finger. At the same moment, though, Pietersen signalled for the DRS - it is still available for catches in this series - so the status of Dhoni's maiden Test wicket hung in limbo. It stayed hanging for more than a minute as the third umpire rock-and-rolled the Hotspot and standard replays.
Eventually it became clear that there was daylight between the bat and ball while there was a small Hotspot mark on the top of Pietersen's pad where the bat had flicked it. Two deliveries later Ian Bell, facing his first ball after lunch, treated Dhoni's bowling as it should be by square-cutting a long hop to deep point. "I had to review that, I couldn't get out to Dhoni," Pietersen said with the smile of someone who'd survived to make a double hundred.
Dhoni didn't come close to a wicket again and ended his first spell with five overs for 20 before taking the keeping gauntlets back from Dravid as the second new ball was handed to Ishant Sharma, but returned for another three-over burst when the ball was just 10 overs old. He will really have believed he could do a job and takes his bowling seriously. He often bowls in the nets, and did so at Taunton during India's build-up to this Test, and in terms of pace is around what Praveen Kumar offers although the accuracy, unsurprisingly, isn't the same.
On the list of players who have started a Test as wicketkeeper and come on to bowl Dhoni fills that most recent four slots. Before him is the last wicketkeeper to take a wicket - Mark Boucher in a dreary Test where West Indies made 747 in reply to South Africa's 588 for 6 in Antigua - but Dhoni wouldn't have been the first India gloveman to strike. That honour goes to Syed Kirmani who bowled Azeem Hafeez at Nagpur in 1983.
The history of wicketkeeper-bowlers is littered with some fascinating names. Rod Marsh once bowled 10 overs against Pakistan, Clyde Walcott twice came on to have a trundle and Jim Parks has a Test scalp against India in 1964. One who didn't bowl, but could have done a very handy job, was Australia's Tim Zoehrer who was a good enough legspinner to take 38 first-class wickets.
The best figures by a wicketkeeper, however, belong to the first man who took off the pads. Alfred Lyttelton claimed 4 for 19 (the only wickets of his first-class career), against Australia at The Oval in 1884 bowling under-arm lobs. "The remainder of the innings was alone remarkable for the success which attended Lyttelton's lobs," reported Wisden. While Lyttelton bowled, WG Grace was behind the stumps and didn't want to appeal for the first of the wickets.
Now, 127 years later at Lord's in the shadow of WG, Dhoni gave an example of the oddities and quirks that make cricket such a compelling sport.
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