September 4, 2014

Dhoni the Test wicketkeeper needs a break

History has shown that a vibrant keeper infuses energy into a side, but that quality has gone missing in the case of India's captain

When the band's drummer goes down, the spirits sag © AFP

Like a drummer in a band, never underestimate the importance of the Test wicketkeeper. In essence they are the heart and soul of a cricket team.

In this latest quite bizarre Test series between India and England, we saw both teams fluctuate, and when they did the gloveman had much to do with it. Much has been said and written about the decline in MS Dhoni's wicketkeeping. In truth, due to the unrelenting schedule, he has become merely a stopper. When push comes to shove, Dhoni is on his last legs behind the stumps, a natural decline in energy and athleticism, a case of burnout and attrition, rendering him done and dusted as a Test keeper.

It is this lack of energy behind the stumps that kills the tick tock of the fielding side and bowling attack. With no central figure and energy to work off, India grind to a halt. He will do well to be ready for the defence of the World Cup, if he carries on playing as much as he does. It's time for a well-earned break in Tests, and I mean well earned, for he plays more than any player in the game. It has now caught up with him, and India can't breathe in the field over long Test match days while a tired mind and ageing body rules the roost.

When Matt Prior attempted another gutsy comeback, it didn't serve England. They couldn't make up for the mistakes that kept coming, and ultimately they mounted up and cost the team. Yet, as soon as Jos Buttler arrived, a different vibrancy emerged. It is simply the effect of new, fearless energy, a fresh perspective, a youthful face and body, and someone different to aim at.

Throughout the game's history, it is seen that great teams and in particular bowlers, have liked their keeper to be top-notch. There is no Einstein logic required to understand why, but as soon as you see a struggling gloveman, a drummer who misses the beat, the bowling attack inevitably drops its head.

Think of Alec Bedser and Godfrey Evans, Derek Underwood and Alan Knott, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh, Shane Warne and Ian Healy, Richard Hadlee and Ian Smith, Malcolm Marshall and Jeff Dujon, Shaun Pollock and Mark Boucher, to name just a few of the great combinations of all time. The champion bowlers swore by their masterful keeper. On the flip side, when the keeper was down, the whole team took a hit. Often teams rebuild around the wicketkeeper.

New Zealand have felt a resurgence recently and a lot can be attributed to BJ Watling, a fierce trainer, a gutsy individual and loyal team man. His batting soared as his keeping has blossomed, and his team has benefited from his infectious enthusiasm. Watling's inclusion allowed Brendon McCullum the opportunity to focus on leadership and run-scoring, a job he has so far done with aplomb.

Buttler could well provide the same spice to this rebuilding England camp. Prior did England a great service when he pulled out off his own bat; the selectors certainly weren't going to make the call. It is these quirks of fate that can set a team back in motion.

I will never forget the certainty that Smith gave Hadlee. Firstly, Smith stood up close - he had to on matches played on rugby grounds. He took the ball above waist height as often as possible, giving the impression to all, including the bowler, that Hadlee was certainly "hitting the gloves" with vigour and energy. With Smith up close, it drew the rest of the slips cordon closer, and I can attest to dropping some screamers flying around where I stood at third slip.

Having Jeff Crowe and Jeremy Coney at first and second slip respectively was the priority and they soon became the best in the world. Hadlee directly benefited from Smith's lead. Also, being closer to where the ball pitched, Smith could easily identify the length that Hadlee would be hitting. Within a couple of overs of play starting, Hadlee and Smith would meet mid-pitch to nail the exact length needed to hit the top of off stump. With Smith's finger-pointing accuracy, Hadlee would begin the process of dismantling the opposition with precision; as Smith and Co waited with fierce focus and fervour to complete the transaction.

There are many other examples of this happening over time, the most recent period being when Australia dominated for so long, led by the remarkable Healy, who had the ability to set the scene for his bowlers and slips cordon. He gave the bowler the target to aim at, while he lined his troops up magnificently. Oh, how magnificent they were too. McGrath, Gillespie and Warne bowling to a deadly cordon of Healy, Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh. You could not wish for a better band of men, led by the finest drummer on the planet.

Test wicketkeeping is an art and an engine room in one. With precision and pump behind the stumps, anything is possible on the playing field.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on September 5, 2014, 20:50 GMT

    evwn with dhoni as captain since 2011 we havw seen white washes and series losses till date in away why cant we have some XYZ as captain cause can "msd as captain" fans and also msd himself give gurantee that we will not loose test series in OZ??

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2014, 8:34 GMT

    Last two, three test matches against England, India scored every innings near 200. In that 200 big portion from Dhoni, if he also not in team; India will all out before 100. Otherwise need to find out some good players, who can play in bouncy pitches.

  • Paul on September 5, 2014, 2:41 GMT

    Bowlers have always had their favourite keepers (after all, in the first ever Test match the great Spofforth refused to play because his preferred keeper Murdoch was not selected), and it's hard to believe that the current version of Dhoni would be the first choice of any Indian bowler. He should stand aside, both metaphorically and physically - he'd make a very handy slips fieldsman.

  • UJJAWAL on September 5, 2014, 2:14 GMT

    Dhoni should immediately retire from all forms of cricket. He has enough money to spend his life without having to play any more. Indian cricket team doesn't need him. They can do well even without him.

  • Delan on September 4, 2014, 23:33 GMT

    Not just Dhoni the Test keeper, but Dhoni the Test captain also...and make that a permanent break! Unfortunately its hard to see who is the obvious replacement at this stage especially for the captaincy. The keeping aspect can be easily replaced. Dhoni is a different captain and person in Tets compared to limited overs formats. He is great in the latter but shocking in Tests!

  • Nish on September 4, 2014, 21:38 GMT

    MSD just needs to retire from Test cricket at the soonest. His captaincy, team selection, wicket-keeping & even batting to some extent has been found wanting on overseas Tests for many years now as can seen by the poor results & regular series losses. Even really good opportunities to win abroad like on the recent tours to both SA & NZ are simply squandered away. Therefore he should certainly be made to step down from the Test team before the tour to Australia at the end of the year or we are certain to be get another series whitewash or drubbing.

  • VENKATESA on September 4, 2014, 16:06 GMT

    Dhoni.., the test player needs a break.., but a permanent one at that.., if India wants to do well in tests.. Captaincy may be given to a test specialist like Pujara & the keeping to Wridhimman Saha.., the best keeper we have in our country right now..

  • Ram on September 4, 2014, 15:19 GMT

    WK can get repetitive stress injury on their hands due to the workload. It can get to the point of being painful on every delivery. In a test match, you have a no where to hide as an injured WK. So the keeping gets very defensive, with an aim to protect the hands and from making the injury worse. They will no longer make difficult pouches which is critical to test match success. I very much think Dhoni has RSI on his hands (his takes are not natural and there is a distinct attempt at minimizing pain), but he keeps playing without a break. He is a strong man but there is a limit to what the body can take, and Dhoni has reached his tipping point and needs rest.

  • Chetan on September 4, 2014, 14:15 GMT

    I would not go as far as to say get rid of Dhoni - he is still a fighter with the bat. Basis what we have seen by way of batting performance, looks like some of the batsmen need a batsman-friendly pitch & environment, coupled with a batsman-friendly opposing bowling attackto score anything of value. One of these alleged batsmen could make way for Samson, Dhoni could continue as a batsman who sometimes bowls seam-up as well.

  • Dummy4 on September 4, 2014, 12:13 GMT

    The problem is not with anything else but his technique. He had the same issue in England last time but was superb at home and Australia. I just think Dhoni struggles as a keeper in England.

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