England v India, 4th Investec Test, Old Trafford, 1st day August 7, 2014

Dhoni the batsman fires, Dhoni the keeper flounders

MS Dhoni made his unique batting methods work for his flailing team at Old Trafford; the same cannot be said of his keeping

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Dhoni finds a way despite limitations

MS Dhoni the Test batsman is like a typical small-time Indian business. Most successful businesses in India begin without a blueprint or required expertise or finances, they troubleshoot on the fly, find indigenous solutions and somehow manage to survive no matter how tough it gets. For the longest period of time, Dhoni did not want to get involved in this business of being a batsman outside Asia. On this tour, he took the leap, pushed himself to No. 6, did the unthinkable by playing five bowlers, went back for a match, came back to the original formula, and lo he came in to bat at 8 for 4 on an overcast morning at Old Trafford. His team could have been a bit more grateful.

What followed is not for the weak-hearted. This was Test batting straight from a book never read before. Dhoni stood in his stance with his back foot in front of middle stump, his head in line with off; then he walked at balls, flayed at some, left some alone, let some hit him, pulled and hooked too, and had to show for his efforts a 71 without which India would have struggled to pass 100.

Dhoni loves to talk a lot about processes. "I don't care about results as long as the process is right," he keeps repeating. His runs through third man, mostly edges, will be pointed out in saying how fortunate he had been, but given his technical and aesthetic constraints, Dhoni got the processes right. It was hard to spot, but there was method to his batting.

Dhoni is not the best judge of where his off stump is, as has often been pointed out. That is why you see him walk at bowlers, getting outside the line of off. This, though, was a quicker pitch than any India have played on in recent times, so his walking into balls was not quite advisable. Not early on in his innings at any rate. So he took that guard that had his head on the line of off, so he could leave balls that were even slightly wide. He only began to walk out of his crease when he felt he was set.

Even then Dhoni had to wear a few. He had faced 22 deliveries before he felt he could leave his crease, but James Anderson banged in a shortish inswinger. Dhoni just presented it with his shoulder. No flinching, no rubbing. And he was down the pitch again next ball. This time it saved him as he had got just outside the line to an accurate and full inswinger - it helped that he had got the inside edge as well.

All that is fine, but runs also have to be scored. For runs Dhoni went hard after every ball that seemed too full to him. Line was no criteria for his shot selection; he just drove at anything marginally too full. He did not care if he was close to the line or not, he just went hard after them. Some went through cover, some flew off the edge through or over the slips. It was not pretty, it was not about pleasure - Dhoni himself had his arm and shoulder battered - but it was someone finding ways to score runs when none were coming.

Through this series, at various points, Dhoni has threatened to come out of the shell that his captaincy and batsmanship reside in, but the wicketkeeper has withdrawn further into the shell. Yet again he refused to go for a catch that was going to be difficult for the first slip. He used to do that to VVS Laxman, he carried on doing that to M Vijay, did not spare R Ashwin or Shikhar Dhawan, and now that Vijay is back, the opener would have found nothing has changed at all.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled a good outswinger in the fifth over of England's innings, drew an edge from Sam Robson that went a stride and a half to the right of Dhoni, and yet Vijay had to take it on the half-volley. It has happened at least three times in the last three Tests. Earlier in the day, Jos Butler dropped a catch to his right when he dived six inches too far, but at least he went for it. That might not have carried to first slip either.

It does not help when you have to keep changing that man next to you almost every series; you hardly get time to build an understanding around which catches are whose. To see no improvement with Dhoni, though, is a big disappointment. You wonder if Dhoni and the coaching team actually recognise this as an issue at all. You do not see him spend a lot of time working on it. At training he plays his football, takes a few catches, bowls in the nets before it is his turn to bat, and often that is it.

Dhoni the Test cricketer outside Asia keeps his place as captain first, wicketkeeper next and batsman last. The wicketkeeping is lagging behind now, and it is time Dhoni questioned the processes behind it because the results have been ordinary for too long.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 10, 2014, 2:58 GMT

    I do agree with Assistant Editor @ Siddharth Monga. MSD should give up Wicketkeeping Duty. He should play as a Specialist Batman. His Wicketkeeping is lagging.

    Naman Ojha is a talented W/K. Why don't you give him a chance as a Glovesman ? He is technically good keeper. MSD can bat at 5.

  • Ranj on August 9, 2014, 19:04 GMT

    Indian play so much IPL matches that they have forgotton that test matches last 5 days not 2 and bit days! So mightly Indian fans what went wrong? Do you not agree that this was a pathetic performance by your highly paid cricketers? They just dont know how to play test cricket! Too much money, too much fame, too much arrogance! That's what I think. What do you think is the cause of this humiliating defeat? Or do you blame the umpairs?

  • RAJARAMAN on August 9, 2014, 8:07 GMT

    This series has clearly shown that India is not yet ready for a 5-test series overseas ... our travel should strictly be limited to 2-3 match series to look after our pacers ... I am already fearing what is going to happen in Aus later this year

  • RAJARAMAN on August 9, 2014, 4:50 GMT

    This piece clearly tells that people lose no time to find fault with MSD no matter what it is ... great tribute to a person who is the best WK-batsman for India at present ... people advocating for Sanju has to understand that he is no SRT to be blooded very early

  • RAJARAMAN on August 9, 2014, 4:47 GMT

    It's amusing to brand MSD as "unathletic" that too in batting ... MSD had previously taken break from test cricket but nobody was able to step into his shoes and that is not his fault ... it is only very obvious that no-present day wicket-keeper other MSD is capable of hitting a doublw-century in India ... he is certainly the best WK-batsman for India ... it has become a fashion nowadays to find fault with MSD one thing or other ... he will definitely quit or at least take a long-break after WC-2015

  • Llewellyn on August 9, 2014, 3:15 GMT

    I don't know if anyone is still reading or responding to this thread but what the hell....

    @dunger.bob and Nutcutlet: I can accept your points to some extent. Dhoni's responsibilities are vast and he has handled them admirably in all formats except test cricket. His fine reputation in one day and T20 formats is well deserved. He often performs rescue missions under intense pressure. When he retires he will be remembered as a pillar of Indian cricket. And for those who like silverware, he has secured more trophies than any other Indian captain. He should be praised for all these efforts.

    However, none of the above are necessarily relevant to test cricket. His fighting 70 the other day was great, but this same man played for a draw from day one at the Ageas Bowl. Unfortunately, the competitive Dhoni is mostly absent during away tests. I agree that we do ask too much of him - maybe its time to ask someone else, just for test matches? It would only be fair to Dhoni and also the team...

  • Zoey on August 8, 2014, 19:45 GMT

    Ppl need to stop blaming dhoni for everything.cmon guys it was his innings comin in at 8for 4 dat india is still in the match otherwise it would hav been even more humiliating.remember this is the same pitch wher the Aussies folded meekly for 47,India wer also on course for such score line.he is a legend,the best test wicket keeper batman of the country n one of the best wckt keeper batman of all time n to add the burden of being the most successful test captain of India(in terms of wins) n not to mention his odi exploits where he is considered the bet ever finisher.ppl would know his value when he retires especially in odis, considering the fact that Apart frm kohli no one seems there seems to be no match winner cos raina with all those odis under his belt is highly inconsistent.india might struggle badly in their favourite format which the play so well post his retirement.

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2014, 15:49 GMT

    What is this obsession about playing football? Stick to what you are good at and get paid to do..

  • uncle bob on August 8, 2014, 14:45 GMT

    Here is another record of MS: # Dhoni, with his seventh half-century in England, has emulated a record for most fifties by a wicketkeeper against England in Tests in England. South Africa's John Waite had also posted seven against England in England.

  • uncle bob on August 8, 2014, 14:41 GMT

    Dhoni's 71 off 133 balls is his 32nd half-century in Tests - his eleventh against England. He has become the first Indian captain to record five fifties in Tests in England, bettering Sourav Ganguly's four.

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