MS Dhoni loves army fatigues. He's also a sharp marksman. The two play a great role in making Dhoni the most remarkable wicketkeeper-batsman in the domestic T20 league.
Dhoni, a honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the territorial army, loves his military prints — his gloves are in this hue, he also has a collection of bags and shoes with similar prints. What's not so-well known is his shooting prowess. The first time he shot a .303 rifle at an army range in Guwahati, he scored more accurately than many of the military's top marksmen.
Ever the innovator, Dhoni has found another way to influence the outcome of a match. This time, with his gloves off. Against Kings XI Punjab at Mohali earlier in the season, Dhoni took his right glove off while left-arm seamer Dirk Nannes steamed in to deliver the final over. The on-lookers were puzzled at first. The true genius of the move came off the fifth ball.
As Parveen Kumar tried to sneak a quick single, Dhoni collected the ball in his right hand and straight away took aim, uprooting the leg-stump with Praveen a fair distance short.
Imagine the outcome if he had his gloves on and took an underarm throw, or if he took his gloves off after collecting the ball and then took aim? This may not be F1, but cricket has its own moments where every nano-second counts!
Necessity: mother of all innovation
Former India wicketkeeper Kiran More is a great fan of Dhoni's keeping, and says the latest innovation is testament to Dhoni's ability to think out of the box. "Taking his gloves off in the final over is a great innovation, especially in this format. He can effect run outs and increases his overall impact. It's also a move in the team's interests," More told HT.
Speaking on some of the broader technical adjustments that keepers have to make for the format, he said, "You see that whenever they're collecting the ball from throws they have to attack it, rather than cushion and absorb the blow. The difference can be crucial, especially when teams are sneaking quick runs."
Rise of batsman wicketkeepers
Another change in T20, and across the sport, since Adam Gilchrist redefined wicketkeeping has been the emergence of batsmen who can keep, rather than keepers who can bat. Prior to the turn of the century, wicketkeepers averaged around 20 in 130-odd years of Test cricket, in the 13 years since they've averaged 32.
A look at the wicket-keepers of league’s teams and you'll see names like Dinesh Karthik, Manvinder Bisla, Robin Uthappa and AB de Villiers, who would make the team on the merit of their batting alone. In fact, some like Dhoni's understudy Wriddhiman Saha get a chance to play only on the merit of their batting. Saha, one of the most consistent and talented keepers in the domestic scene, has to earn his stripes as a fielder. Wicketkeepers now have to keep innovating to remain up to speed with the changing nature of the game, sometimes they even need to learn tricks from other sports. Against the Rajasthan Royals, Dwayne Bravo attempted a cheeky sidefooter as the batsman tried to steal a quick single.
Bravo missed the intended target (the stumps), but he did manage to score an own-goal as Dhoni dived full length and attempted his best Peter Schmeichel impersonation. Alas the ball sneaked in, and batsman got an extra run.
In his defence, Dhoni hasn't donned the goalkeeper's hat since he was in school!