The rule of having only four fielders in the deep to protect a less than incisive bowling line-up has placed limits on MS Dhoni’s captaincy
(Cricinfo) MS Dhoni walked slowly near the boundary of the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium near Hambantota, the notorious wind howling across from the forest behind him. But his thoughts were on something else, his eyes warily sizing up the outfield, easily one of the biggest in international cricket. His first reaction: “It will be very difficult to stop twos and threes on this ground.” It was an instant, momentary glimpse into how Dhoni’s mind works. Almost immediately, he moved on to pleasantries about the remoteness of the area.
The Hambantota trip was in July 2012. Already, the introduction of two new balls had snatched away reverse swing and the last remaining signs of attacking spin bowling in ODIs. With specialist bowlers who have made him lament the absence of Yuvraj Singh’s part-time slow left-armers, Dhoni’s problems were to be aggravated, especially in home conditions: A couple of months later, the maximum number of deep fielders was reduced to four from five. For a man who won the World Cup with an ageing team, and two years later, the Champions Trophy with a raw squad, this new combination of unreliable bowlers and unfavourable rules poses a daunting challenge.
Dhoni’s limited-overs captaincy, and by unfortunate extension, at times his Test captaincy, is about damage control. He hates conceding runs. Not that other captains enjoy giving them away, but in Dhoni’s case, it is the core philosophy of how he operates. At times, a fumble or a late reaction from a deep fielder will make him punch one gloved hand with the other in frustration. You will seldom see a similar reaction from him for a dropped catch.
Dhoni does not take wickets to restrict runs. He restricts runs to take wickets. That is why he likes and backs Ravindra Jadeja so much. That is why he has so much time for Pragyan Ojha, in Tests. He waits and waits for an opportunity and then moves in like a boa constrictor. As soon as the Australia openers fell in Mohali, he turned to Jadeja and Yuvraj, who darted the ball in backed by a packed leg-side field. The runs dried out. The asking-rate increased. Australia lost crucial middle-order wickets. The Dhoni formula seemed to be working again, till James Faulkner v Ishant Sharma happened.