England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 5th day July 22, 2014

Why Dhoni stood back to Jadeja's spin

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MS Dhoni wanted an extra catcher behind the wicket on the leg side but the rules prevented him from having one © PA Photos

In the 21st over of England's second innings at Lord's, MS Dhoni did something many commentators - former cricketers all - claimed they had never seen before. Two balls into Ravindra Jadeja's seventh over, Dhoni got rid of his helmet and stood further behind the stumps than usual. He kept doing so whenever Jadeja bowled to left-hand batsmen. For right-hand batsmen, he would return to the normal position of standing up to the stumps.

As the unusual scene of Dhoni standing close for the medium-pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar and back for the spinner Jadeja played out, the experts began to guess what exactly he was trying to do.

Some thought Dhoni was being funky for the sake of it. A little too funky. Others said they had last seen this in an Under-11 match. Some felt an edge off Jadeja's pace and extra bounce would be easier to take if the keeper was standing back. The majority agreement, though, was that on an uneven pitch in a tense Test, Dhoni was a little too worried about conceding byes off Jadeja, who was firing the ball into the rough - an extremely cynical view to take, even for the sternest critics of Dhoni's captaincy.

After India's 95-run win, Dhoni revealed why he had stood back. It did have a lot to do with the rough, the uneven bounce and Jadeja's pace, but the move was necessitated because of the laws of cricket.

A catch had just lobbed wide of Virat Kohli at leg gully. Dhoni needed two leg gullies - or a leg slip and a leg gully - but that would mean sacrificing short fine leg to meet the rule of not having more than two fielders behind square on the leg side. No fine leg meant an easy getaway sweep shot.

So Dhoni went for a home remedy. He asked Kohli to move squarer for the meatier edge, and he took a couple of steps back so he had the time to go for the fine edge down the leg side.

"I wanted to have a fielder there," Dhoni said of his new position. "But according to the rules of the game you can't have three fielders there. I wanted Virat to stand slightly wide of where he was standing because anything like a snick or a faint edge on the leg side would go between him and me. So the plan was to stand behind and cover that."

Dhoni did not get to show off his genius because no edge went that fine. In Jadeja's next over, though, one flew off Alastair Cook's glove but fell short of Kohli. The bigger danger of this plan, however, was of Dhoni missing a stumping or watching the batsmen use their feet comfortably. England's batsmen, though, did not do that.

"If the batsmen kept stepping out and playing, I would have had to go in," Dhoni said. "They didn't really step out so I had the liberty of standing back and trying to catch the ball at both ends, but nothing really came to us.

"The good thing was, they didn't really step out and miss one because that would have been a perfect thing for the commentators to talk about."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • binkuvarghese88 on July 26, 2014, 9:37 GMT

    I would certainly agree with MS, If the batsman is not dancing down the track, why should the keeper stand up to the stump. Its not written in any cricket laws ! Its all about how you conceive new things. I reckon its a great move from MS, and keepers should start using this(At least in Test cricket ). Moreover, keepers are getting more time to collect ball.

  • dummy4fb on July 25, 2014, 7:50 GMT

    Innovative ideas are historically frowned upon. Even Galileo was imprisoned for saying that the earth is not flat! So, I am not surprised to read the criticisms of Dhoni's out-of-the-box moves. It is good that Dhoni is least bothered about it, though.

  • jonesy2 on July 25, 2014, 5:33 GMT

    very interesting stuff. i thought he was back there for the ball the spat out of the rough and caught something then lobbed up behind the keeper and fielders, i just thought dhoni figured that was likely to happen again as it had already happened i think the day before

  • TATTUs on July 25, 2014, 3:25 GMT

    So a keeper standing a couple of steps back could cover a 45 fielder? Amazing! Street smartness or overdoing things? Debate rages on. It would be interesting to know what ex cricketers feel about this now that Dhonis views have come in too.

    Personally I dont think a keeper could cover a 45.

  • Rahulbose on July 24, 2014, 16:01 GMT

    I thought he was trying to bait the batsmen into a lofted shot. Stepping out and trying to hit out of the rough is a fairly risky shot, plus with Jadeja's style of bowling a mistimed shot or edge is more likely than a stumping. He rarely beats anyone in the air. But this was an unconventional move and shows Dhoni feels comfortable enough to try out such tactics on the fly. As with a lot of captaincy moves in cricket, you look like a genius if it comes off , you also look like a fool when it doesn't.

  • dummy4fb on July 24, 2014, 9:57 GMT

    Street smartness - you get this only in India and in tennis ball cricket.

  • dummy4fb on July 23, 2014, 19:28 GMT

    Serious Cricketing Brains!!!

  • nainil0683 on July 23, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    Very sensible stuff from Dhoni. Definitely would not be considered a master-stroke had he pulled a catch diving on the leg side. It's simple plain sensible approach. Well done Dhoni!

  • Nampally on July 23, 2014, 17:50 GMT

    Logical thinking by Dhoni in field placing! Jadeja bowls off spinners to the LH bats which is easier for a LH bat to handle than leg spinners..Hence an easier way of addressing the spinner issue was to have Ashwin in the line up instead of Binny! With 6 LH batsmen in England that was the most obvious decision. Ashwin is also the best off spinner having taken fastest 100 Test wkts. in the world. While Dhoni used logic in field placing he failed to do so in selecting his XI. Dhoni did a great job in tactical battle in the Lords Test. His use of Ishant to bowl short pitched bouncers on a pitch with uncertain bounce was a stroke of Genius. I applaud him for it & applaud Ishant in executing the Dhoni Mantra to perfection. My only query here is : Why not Ashwin or Aaron instead of Binny, as logic dictates? I suppose Dhoni was forced to include Binny after his innings of 78 in the second innings of the First Test. I feel India will be short changed If they don't replace Binny with alternate.

  • dummy4fb on July 23, 2014, 15:42 GMT

    It is rather naive to assume that the commentators, even if they are ex-cricketers, are smarter than man in the middle. The game keeps on evolving, Players keep on experimenting with their tactics, more often than not, finding ways to cope with new regulations, which the older players never had to content with.

    And last, and no in the least, some of them lack the humility to accept the fact they could not fathom the logic of a move they never tried in their career. It's never too late to discover and learn newer ways of handling never-met-before-kind of laws and regulations.

    One should also give credit to Dhoni in indirectly accepting the fact that he could not find an effective way to combat some of the ludicrous field restrictions in the short formats,despite he being one of the best master tacticians for 20 or 50 over games..