Cricket Xtra: Dhoni one of cricket's great innovators

Ajit Vijaykumar 09:21 25/04/2016
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  • Punjab will face Pune in their opening game of IPL 10.

    Mahendra Singh Dhoni is one of the sharpest minds in limited overs cricket. We all know that. But it’s the way he keeps giving us reminders which adds to the legend.

    Admittedly, Dhoni doesn’t rank highly when it comes to Test cricket or dynamic captaincy. He has his limitations in those areas, but where Dhoni is good, he is the best.

    His latest wicketkeeping efforts have been viewed multiple times and admired for their ingenuity.

    In the ongoing IPL, Dhoni has made two noteworthy ‘stops’. Against Kings XI Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore, Dhoni, while standing up to the stumps, managed to anticipate a cut from the batsman and even before the shot was executed, stuck his pads out to stop the batsman from taking a run.

    In fact, against Bangalore, batsman Virat Kohli got so confused, he very nearly got run out. While it might look a bit too adventurous, there is some logic behind Dhoni’s ploy. In T20 cricket, there are a few ‘release’ shots which batsman play when they can’t execute the big hits towards the boundary ropes.

    Guiding the ball behind square or towards point is a safe shot for batsmen looking to get the single, go down to the other end and recalculate.

    But when a guaranteed shot results in nothing, the batsman is left stumped and has to think of another way just to reach the other end. It seems like a flawless plan but Dhoni is taking one big risk.

    While standing on one foot to stop the ball from going to point or third man might stop a single, that also makes it extremely difficult for the wicketkeeper to hold on to any faint edge or even go for a stumping chance.

    But that is a risk Dhoni is willing to take. Because in T20 cricket, a dot ball has a psychological effect on the batsman. Failure to score adds to the pressure and the batsman looks more and more desperate as he tries to up the scoring rate, disrupting the flow of batting for the entire team.

    In a way, having a batsman unable to take singles in the middle is better than getting him out in T20s. Dhoni’s out-of-the-box thinking came to the fore during the World T20 in India as well.

    In the tense match against Bangladesh, with two runs to defend off the last ball, Dhoni came up with the plan of bowling a wide and back of a length ball, getting the opposition to run for a bye before running the batsman out.

    Things went exactly as planned, with the batsman missing the ball, Dhoni, already with one glove off, collecting the ball and sprinting to the pitch and taking the stumps out. There was no place for the uncertainty of a throw.

    It just goes to show that while Dhoni might not be the most technically accomplished batsman or wicketkeeper and a bit too defensive for a captain of a young team, he is a master tactician in limited overs cricket and knows how to manoeuvre the game according to his pace.

    And more than his World Cup wins, his helicopter shots and exemplary fitness record, his innovation in the field is Dhoni’s biggest contribution to the game.

    A ‘global’ IPL?

    Every year, the IPL faces some controversy or the other, off and on the field. While issues regarding corruption and court cases are serious and have rightfully forced the Indian board to get its act together, the drought saga has not gone down well with the BCCI.

    The board was forced to change the IPL schedule, despite giving assurances to the court of using only treated sewage water to prepare grounds in the drought-hit state of Maharashtra, and they seem to be running out of patience.

    The IPL governing council chairman Rajiv Shukla stated that if the IPL is continued to be ‘targeted’, the BCCI might as well move the tournament outside India.

    With every passing year, the IPL gets scrutinised with greater intensity from all quarters for any slip-ups and the Indian board feels it is unfair. So maybe in 2017, the T20 carnival might look to play some or a majority of its matches in a country like the UAE, where it was roaring success during a brief visit two years ago.

    Even former India team director Ravi Shastri feels that while the IPL should ideally be held in India, there is no harm in moving it abroad since it is a ‘global brand’.

    But moving the tournament out of its home base can’t possibly benefit the board and prove a point to its detractors. The economic fallout of such a move would be huge on franchises who look to maximise their revenue from tie-ups and endorsements with local institutions.

    Hosting the IPL in a neutral country might make for smoother functioning, but the franchisees will take a big hit and will need BCCI’s support to recover considerable costs.

    So while it is understandable that the BCCI is issuing such threats, I don’t think it is a smart thing to do.