MS Dhoni, the batsman, finds a way around ‘away’ problem

In the past, Dhoni has so often got out, reaching out or pushing at the balls pitched outside the off-stump.

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | London | Updated: August 15, 2014 1:00:00 pm
MS Dhoni might have found a permanent solution to his ‘away' problem (Source: AP) MS Dhoni might have found a permanent solution to his ‘away’ problem (Source: AP)

This comes straight from the horse’s mouth: “Mahendra Singh Dhoni has a horrible technique when it comes to Test cricket.” That’s what the Indian captain said at The Oval on Thursday.

Within days of being the team’s highest scorer in the Test played under the toughest conditions, the Indian captain candidly spoke about the way he has conducted himself at the crease in this series, while proudly touching upon his limitations as a batsman.

Scoring 71 in the team’s total of 152 in the first innings and following it up with a fighting 27 in the second at Old Trafford, Dhoni (267) is just behind Murali Vijay (382) and Ajinkya Rahane (295) on the run-makers’ list.

However, he hasn’t been able to better his previous highest in England, the 92 he scored at Oval in 2007. Even his series average of 33 is same as his career ‘away’ average.

But there seems to be something about Dhoni’s batting which conveys in a subtle way that Dhoni might have found a permanent solution to his ‘away’ problem. Or at least a better way to deal with swinging ball.

In the past, Dhoni has so often got out, reaching out or pushing at the balls pitched outside the off-stump. Bowlers have repeatedly bowled the away going delivery and Dhoni, so used to the hustle-bustle of shorter version cricketer, has tried to sneak singles to covers. In this series he is more guarded. The ‘push’ hasn’t been removed his ‘stroke bouquet’ but it’s been modified.

In England this time, especially at Old Trafford, his back lift has been the same but the bat speed seems slower now. That means he is in more control of his ‘stock stroke’ now. The slower bat flow hasn’t affected the run flow. That’s because Dhoni’s powerful bottom hand gripping the bat neck lends enough momentum to the ball to send it across the fence. The new Dhoni is more assertive in his front foot play and, like in the past, doesn’t get caught in the crease. The short ball hasn’t scared him. Bowlers tried to scare him away but he has taken body blows while standing way out of the crease.

Over the years, pundits have endlessly scrutinised Dhoni’s technique, especially when he has failed abroad. Invariably they have concluded that his skills are inadequate to do well outside the sub-continent. The early habits formed while playing on the slow and low tracks needed to be tempered. The master of the shorter version knew this and he had been working hard to change his batting. The results are now showing.

Not just about runs

Dhoni explains how it took so long. “The problem I was facing was that what I was doing in the nets, I wasn’t able to take it to the middle. That’s the big step you have to take. I batted well in the last two games. If I can continue to do that in this game I would be happy. For me, it’s not about runs but also about how I bat. It is difficult to change technique all of a sudden. We all have our own technique and we need to have confidence in our technique. Still you need to be aware of the limitations of the technique that you have,” he said.

Interestingly, Alastair Cook, like Dhoni, has been standing up, divorcing the back and across trigger and meeting the ball just below his eyes. Though, their teams have had contrasting results, they have found their way as batsmen. Regardless of how the rest of the series goes, it’s a step up for both the captains.

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