It's often said that the wicketkeeper sets the standards of fielding for a team. If that is true, then this Indian team should do well in the coming years for Mahendra Singh Dhoni's glovework has been outstanding in recent times. It's premature to suggest that the elevation to captaincy may have played a part in this, but from someone who was seen as a batsman who could keep wickets adequately, Dhoni has grown into a force behind the stumps.
In Baroda, a city that has produced two of the best Indian wicketkeepers of the recent past, there was rich conversation about glovework, especially in the light of Dhoni winning the Man-of-the-Match award in the fourth one-dayer in Chandigarh. "Looking at his percentage of taking catches it's better than any of the other keepers we have had recently," Kiran More, one of the former Indian wicketkeepers from Baroda, told Cricinfo. "He doesn't miss when the chances come his way. He's really good at assessing situations and his temperament is fantastic. He doesn't look good in the conventional sense in that he's not a stylish wicketkeeper but his temperament under pressure sets him apart."
But it was not long ago that Dhoni was struggling in England, especially in the early part of the tour having to contend with the considerable movement after the ball crossed the batsman. This is something all keepers have to adjust to when playing in England. The other Baroda wicketkeeper, Nayan Mongia, points out that it was a flaw in technique that caused Dhoni problems in England. "He struggled in England because his technique was not right. He was half-squatting and so could not always gather the ball," said Mongia, "But after that he has done really well. He is improving with every match. He is watching the ball, staying low and moving with the ball. Hence, his mistakes have come down considerably."
More too concedes that Dhoni struggled in England, but says that was only to be expected. "In England people criticised him but you should understand that wicketkeepers always struggle there," said More. "To his credit Dhoni's concentration level is very high. He has improved a lot. Look at one-and-a-half years ago and now. Look at his hand position. He picks things up quickly."
Mongia, who was an expert at keeping wickets on rank turners and even underprepared pitches where Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh made the ball explode out of the rough, says Dhoni will be tested fully in such conditions. "It is always difficult to keep in India because the ball keeps low. But Dhoni is high on confidence and that is helping him do well," said Mongia. "When keeping to the pacers, he dives around to collect the ball. If there's one area in which he should improve, it is in his sideways movement. He needs to be on his toes much more. That will give him a chance to cover much more ground on both sides without needing to dive."
On the issue of leading the side, playing a role with the bat and keeping wickets - and the heavy burden this places on Dhoni - Mongia and More have slightly different takes. "I am worried that he might have a lot on his hands in the coming days," Mongia said. "As it is a keeper has to concentrate more than others and as a captain, he will certainly have a lot more to think about."
More struck a more optimistic note. "This guy is a little different. He can take the pressure of doing everything. He can prove lot of pundits wrong," said More. "Keeping wickets and captaining is always difficult. But he loves the challenge. That's what I like most about him. That makes the best of wicketkeepers. Standing back and waiting for things to happen is never good. Dhoni is the kind of guy who will create something and win matches. That's the difference between Dhoni and other keepers."