Mahendra Singh Dhoni: struggling for form behind the stumps
India's cricketers enjoyed a "rest" day today, warming down after their
second tour game at Chelmsford, but one or two minds might have just been
working overtime. Rahul Dravid and Co. would have wished for the two
practice games to provide a few answers; instead there seem to be more
questions on hand with three days to go until the first Test at Lord's.
Wasim Jaffer or Gautam Gambhir? VVS Laxman or Yuvraj Singh? Mahendra Singh Dhoni as
wicketkeeper? The first two aren't new instances - Jaffer is prone to a string of failures while Laxman's spot is never certain. But what of Dhoni? In Bangladesh he kept his Test spot thanks to
a Man-of-the-Series performance in the preceding one-dayers, but he's done
little of note to be sure of a place here. One can point to his 76 at
Chelmsford, or even his buccaneering 139 not out against Africa XI at
Chennai, but the conditions were nowhere near as demanding as they will be at
What's more worrying is Dhoni's decline behind the stumps. He was never a natural
wicketkeeper, starting off as a football goalie, and it was mainly thanks
to his persistence that he improved in that department. There was a period
early in his career when he gave up batting for one whole year just to get
better with the gloves. He showed considerable improvement last season but
the fumbles have reappeared recently. He has struggled so far in the tour games, often parrying the ball rather than waiting for it, and his grassed
chances off Andy Hodd and Robin Martin-Jenkins at Hove and Stuart Broad at
Chelmsford, all straightforward ones at international level, would
definitely get the team management thinking.
Making his job harder is Dinesh Karthik's presence in the team as a
specialist batsman. Karthik is the more agile wicketkeeper and is better
standing up to Anil Kumble's bouncy offerings. There will surely be a temptation to ask him to keep as well as bat. It would no doubt add to his burden - squatting all day
before opening the batting can't be easy - but it would also allow the
team a chance to play the extra batsman in Yuvraj.
India's batting is awesome on paper but, as was shown at Chelmsford, it just
takes a persistent bowling attack to open up the cracks. The top order is weak,
the middle is inconsistent and the tail is mostly redundant. Lord's is
usually good to the batsmen and India's batting galacticos, as the
Guardian newspaper called them, will need to stand up. If they need
some expert advice about batting on the ground they just need to look
around the dressing room and spot a man who managed three hundreds on the
For Dilip Vengsarkar, the current chairman of selectors, Lord's, where he cracked centuries in 1979
, was his backyard. He downplayed the achievement, when Cricinfo asked him about it, but
explained why the ground was special.
"Every player has his favourite grounds. I've got four hundreds at the Feroz Shah Kotla but nobody remembers that. And they were against better teams - three against
West Indies and one against Asif Iqbal's Pakistan. Everybody only talks
about the three hundred at Lord's. Of course it was a great feeling. It's
special playing at Lord's. Walking through the long room you have a heavy
feeling in the heart. You see the honours board, the pictures on the wall,
the packed atmosphere. It's electrifying. But once you hit the grass, it's
just another ground."
Did he have to make any special adjustment to counter the famous Lord's
slope? "Too much is made of the slope at Lord's," he said
nonchalantly. "Every ground has some slope - go to Leeds you have a slope,
at Chelmsford there's also a slope. You need to adjust to different conditions and the slope is just one part of it. It's not as tough to adjust as it's made out to be."
But which of the three hundreds will he most cherish? "I think the century
in 1986 was my best. We won at Lord's for the first time and went on to
win the series. The bowlers won the game for us - Chetan Sharma bowled
superbly, Kapil Dev was equally good, Maninder Singh too. To finish on the
winning side after making your third successive hundred was very
India had never won a Lord's Test before 1986, they've yet to win one
since. As much as he's proud of being part of that side, Vengsarkar will
hope that India double that victory tally in the coming days.