MS Dhoni completed 200 dismissals as wicketkeeper during the first Test between India and West Indies at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi © AFP

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has scaled a peak no other Indian has. When Dhoni held on to an edge off Marlon Samuels’ bat on the first day of the Delhi Test against the West Indies, he completed 200 dismissals in Test cricket. It was a record-breaking day for Dhoni as he first beat Syed Kirmani’s record for the most dismissals by an Indian wicket-keeper with a trademark stumping and then put the cherry on top of the cake by scalping his 200th victim.

 

It is a remarkable achievement for the Indian captain when you consider the fact that he isn’t the best ‘keeper going around. He isn’t spectacular like Adam Gilchrist or Mark Boucher, nor is he sloppy like Kamran Akmal, but is stable and usually clean behind the stumps. There were times when people doubted his ‘keeping ability, but as the years progressed he showed considerable improvement to become a reliable option behind the stumps for India.

 

Dhoni has had seen the best and the worst with the gloves. Since 2007-08, he has maintained a level of consistency without committing many mistakes. However, the recent tour of England exposed some of his limitations against the swinging delivery. He couldn’t adjust to the movement and made embarrassing errors. The biggest disappointment was the fact that he was standing too far behind for the pacemen and didn’t take remedial steps when even when he found that the the ball wasn’t carrying through.

 

In his initial days in international cricket, it was his batting that won him accolades. His wicket-keeping had taken a backseat as one felt that he had some distance to go before reaching the level of consistency. His showings with the gloves never really brought him the limelight as his hard hitting batting stole the show. However, in the year 2007 when he took over the captaincy in the limited-overs formats, one could sense a marked improvement. He started looking more confident while standing up to some of the slowish medium-pacers and showed good anticipation while collecting the spinners.

 

In this period he picked up the ability to make those quick stumpings. He is very quick to collect the ball and take the bails off in a flash. The margin of error is very slim as the batsman may get a toe behind the line immediately, but Dhoni whips off the bails without giving him a chance. It was only too appropriate that he became the most successful wicket-keeper for India in Tests with that idiosyncratic ability.

 

Comparative study of the top five Indian wicket-keepers in Tests:

 

Player

M

Ct

St

Total

Dismissals per game

MS Dhoni

62*

174

26

200

3.23

Syed Kirmani

88

160

38

198

2.25

Kiran More

49

110

20

130

2.65

Nayan Mongia

44

99

8

107

2.43

Farokh Engineer

46

66

16

82

1.78

 

(*including West Indies’s first innings of the ongoing Delhi Test)

 

When compared to some of India’s most successful wicket-keepers, Dhoni has a better average per game (dismissals per game). He has played 26 Test matches lesser than Kirmani but has managed to move past him. The other important fact is that he has effected 26 stumpings which just highlights his ability in that area. By the time he plays his 88th game, he would have collected around 284 victims if he maintains his current rate. He might just surpass Kirmani’s 38 stumpings and set a new benchmark for Indian keepers of the future.

 

The numbers above don’t just reflect the glovemen’s side of the story but also illustrates a lot about the change in the Indian bowling over the years. The number of chances a wicket-keeper gets in a game is heavily dependent on the bowlers as they are the ones who create the opportunities. In recent years, India have had a much stronger bowling line-up when compared to the earlier generations as the likes of Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh have flourished. Dhoni has kept to all of them which is why he finds himself at the top of the table with the best average.

 

A look at the records of some of Dhoni’s contemporaries:

 

Player

M

Ct

St

Total

Dismissals per match

MS Dhoni

62*

174

26

200

3.22

Adam Gilchrist*

96

379

37

416

4.33

Mark Boucher

139

499

22

521

3.74

Prasanna Jayawardene

43

81

26

107

2.48

Kamran Akmal

53

184

22

206

3.88

 

*retired from international cricket

 

It is clear from the above table that Gilchrist is the clear leader as far as the average is concerned. He kept to one of the best fast bowling line-ups and the greatest leg spinner in the game. Boucher has many more catches as he has handled a predominantly pace oriented line-up. Jayawardene’s 26 stumpings illustrate Sri Lanka’s strength in the spin department. The surprise member in this group is Akmal, who claims a better average that the South African stumper.

 

With his current average, Dhoni fits in between Boucher and Jayawardene. It would take him a lot of individual hard-work and some brilliant assistance from the bowlers if he has to get anywhere close to Gilchrist or Boucher. On the stumping front, Dhoni is tied with Jayawardene who has the same number in lesser matches. However, he is well on course to beat Gilchrist’s record of 37 stumped batsmen.

 

What one must realise is that, the numbers discussed above only reflect half the story and help us in arriving at estimates for the future. Numbers do not enunciate a keeper’s ability as his job isn’t just about catching or stumping. Even a Kamran Akmal boasts of a good average, but his frequent comical errors have become the subject of several jokes. It just proves that stats aren’t the parameter to judge the quality of a gloveman.

 

Furthermore, Dhoni may have kept against the better of the Indian bowling attacks, but Engineer faced the spin quartet for most of his career which wouldn’t have been an easy proposition. Boucher handled the pace of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock early on and now keeps to the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. It just highlights the fact that better bowling attacks may create more chances, but the better the bowler the more difficult is the task with the gloves.

 

Dhoni may have bagged the Indian record, but he has a long way to go to be counted amongst the best.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)