MS Dhoni, among his many qualities, also stands apart as evolved wicketkeeper

Osman Samiuddin sits back and takes in a full appreciation for MS Dhoni's wicketkeeping style, an oft-unappreciated facet of the India star's game highlighted this week in the IPL.

MS Dhoni of Rising Pune Supergiants shown in action against Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday in the IPL. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP / April 24, 2016
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Three years ago I wrote a column in which I suggested that modern-day wicketkeeping did not look so far evolved from the time Rodney Marsh used to stand behind the stumps.

Specifically I had picked out an extraordinary catch he had taken at the 1975 World Cup, flying across Ian Chappell at first slip. Had wicketkeepers moved on beyond that, as so clearly batting, bowling and fielding had done?

I did not think so then but I now realise it was a disservice primarily – maybe exclusively – to MS Dhoni.

Of all the ways to marvel at Dhoni, it is as wicketkeeper that we do so least often.

Foremost of course he is the uber-brand, the richest cricketer in the universe, the man whose visage you cannot escape in India. Then, he is Dhoni, the most successful Indian captain, a leader who oversaw and enabled a definitive transformation in the character of the Indian side.

Beyond that is Dhoni the batsman, one who started out as a freak heralding a new, more audacious and innovative era of batsmanship before turning into possibly the finest ODI finisher the game has seen.

On occasions his batting can still send us into frenzy. But nowadays it is all trumped by the speculative cottage industry around his retirement.

Somewhere in these many ways, hidden even behind the ordinariness of his wicketkeeping to pace bowling, is his work to spinners. And that, let there be no doubt, is truly evolutionary, or at least it would be if there were others capable of emulating what he does.

Nobody seems yet to be.

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Occasionally there is acknowledgment of how good he is in this, but it is never sustained and hardly celebrated (Youtube, as ever, does a good job).

Even now, if he cut his hair funny the same day he reminded us of this skill, his hair would dominate the news.

Just over a week ago, he gave us another demonstration of that combination of intuition, concentration, quickness of thinking and abnormally enhanced game sense that make him a genius as far as keeping to spin goes.

It came in an Indian Premier League (IPL) game against Kings XI Punjab, in the ninth over of their chase.

At heart, cricket is a drama of two principals: the batsman and bowler. The rest, in that moment, are scenery.

On this play, however, the batsman and bowler are almost irrelevant, their only purpose as vessels for Dhoni’s genius.

This ball, from the left-arm spinner Ankit Sharma coming round the wicket, was short of a length and pitching a stump outside off stump.

Manan Vohra, the batsman, played a routine, late dab, to go somewhere between third man and point.

Except Dhoni, as he rose, kicked his right leg out and killed the ball dead as it went towards that region, thus saving a couple of runs.

Watch MS Dhoni's wicketkeeping deny Manan Vohra in the IPL

It is a mesmerizing piece of footage and 10 days on, I still cannot stop watching it.

Note a couple of revealing aspects. One is that Dhoni’s leg begins to make the movement before the ball has even reached Vohra, so he has anticipated precisely the shot Vohra will play in a fraction of a second, with very little obvious hints from the batsman’s back-lift.

The other is how still the rest of his body remains as his leg extends, so that on some viewings you can convince yourself Dhoni is one of those string-pulled puppets where pulling one moves one body part while all else remains unmoved.

All through his hands are exactly where they should be so that if Vohra misses it, or gets a thin edge, Dhoni will still be best-positioned to catch it, albeit one leg in the air. Head right over his hands, he even does a perfectly timed air grasp, should the ball have come through. It is preternatural wicketkeeping and a few days later he did it again.

This is just the flashy stuff and it should not overshadow how he has upturned other conventional wicketkeeping mores.

Long-accepted wisdom has it that the wicketkeeper’s hands should give a little to cushion the ball as they take it. Dhoni’s hands are always almost moving forward as he completes a take off spinners, going at the ball rather than giving in to it. It is that counterintuitive technique that allows him to create stumpings rather than just complete them as others do.

And the most remarkable thing? By a number of accounts, he does it all with bare minimum practice in the nets. He bats, he fields, he even occasionally bowls, but wicketkeeping drills? Hardly, if at all.

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