Keeper Dhoni struggling for form - Kirmani
Syed Kirmani, India's most capped wicketkeeper with 88 Test appearances to his name, has attributed MS Dhoni's patchy performance with the gloves in the Investec Test series against England to "lack of form". Kirmani has urged Dhoni to study video footage, identify and work on his weaknesses to better his keeping.
Dhoni's glove-work has come under scrutiny after a string of errors in the two Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord's. He has conceded 24 byes in the series so far and has looked far from assured to either the seam bowlers or the spinners.
Kirmani, who effected 160 catches and 38 stumpings over his decade-long Test career from 1976-1986, told ESPNcricinfo that Dhoni's performance behind the stumps had declined.
"As the years pass, the performance of an individual peaks," Kirmani said. "I suppose this is what Dhoni is going through right now with his wicketkeeping, he isn't quite as outstanding anymore."
However, Kirmani said, a little rest could help the India captain regain his form behind the stumps: "Form will come automatically, it is only a matter of rest for these players of the current era. With the hectic schedule, there is no time for rest."
Kirmani, who was known for his immaculate keeping, said Dhoni's methods of gathering the ball were not "technically sound". As an example, he pointed to the manner in which Dhoni had been collecting takes from seam bowlers in this series.
"You don't collect anything over the shoulder or over the waist in this fashion (demonstrates method Dhoni employs with fingers pointing towards the ball as he gathers it)," Kirmani said. "That is not the right technique. Either you go this way (demonstrates with palms facing sideways to the ball on both sides of the body) or you go this way (demonstrates with fingers pointing in an upward direction). He is collecting the ball with the wrong technique but he is doing that very effectively."
Kirmani was also convinced that Dhoni was not employing the right method while taking throws from his fielders. "You have to be behind the stumps to collect a throw from any direction of the field. You have to judge the flight and you have to be crouching right on top of the bails to evaluate the flight of the throw," he said. "When you are crouching you will be able to judge where it's going to land or whether it's going to come into your gloves or hit the stumps. There have been many times when Dhoni has missed chances because he has been in front of the stumps collecting the throws and trying to flick the ball behind him. That's not the right technique."
Dhoni has also missed a couple of catches in the series, most noticeably an opportunity from Gary Ballance on the second day of the Lord's Test. Ballance was on 32 at the time, and England 91 for 3, when Dhoni failed to dive for a healthy edge induced by Stuart Binny and the ball went between him and Shikhar Dhawan at first slip for a boundary. Ballance went on to make a century and help England take the first-innings lead.
Kirmani sympathised with Dhoni over the chance, saying that when a catch is towards the "right side" of a close-in fielder, he should attempt to take it. In this case, the chance went to Dhoni's left and, according to Kirmani, may have created a moment of confusion between him and Dhawan.
"First slip always is a little behind the wicketkeeper, Dhoni could have gone for it," he said. "But both of them thought the other would go for it and that's where the ball went - in between them. We can't point to agility, reflexes or movement of a player in this case."
Dhoni's decision to stand back to Ravindra Jadeja when the latter was bowling to left-handers was one of the talking points of the Lord's Test with many commentators claiming they had not seen such a thing before at the international level. Dhoni later explained his reasons for doing so and Kirmani said the Indian captain should be lauded for employing this out-of-the-box strategy. According to him, the move was designed to play with the mind of the batsman.
"If you are in desperate need to dislodge a partnership, the captain and the fielders start to think of how to get it done," he said. "You try all sorts of different ideas to disrupt the concentration of a batsman. When he stood up for Bhuvneswar, he restricted the batsman from stepping out. In Jadeja's case, he just took a chance, thinking that the batsman might step out, loft the ball and get out. This was a strategy that he planned."
With the third Test a few days away, Kirmani's advice to Dhoni is to keep things simple: "Go the way you have been going, you will improve automatically. Look at the video footage of where you have made mistakes to know where you stand and where you need to improve. You have the benefit of technology, coaches, support staff, so make full use of that."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo