Dhoni, slip fielders need to move up

The chatter on Twitter can be cacophonic and it is possible that some amazing tweets are glossed over. But on Thursday evening it was hard to miss Ireland’s wicket-keeper Niall O’Brien’s tweet which read “Got to love Dhoni just letting the ball hit his pads when it keeps low…”

However, the fact that the Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni let a few deliveries bounce a second time and then use his pads rather than gloves to stop the ball on the second day of the first Test at the Wanderers on Thursday suggests that he was not quite judging the bounce and carry right rather than just protect his back.

And when R Ashwin grassed an edge by South African captain and left-handed opener Graeme Smith off left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan when was on 19, that became more apparent. The wicket-keeper is typically the best judge of the bounce and his position determines the slip fielders’ placement on the field.

This is not a knee-jerk response to the chance that R Ashwin grassed off Graeme Smith when was batting on 19.  I can recall quite a few instances where Indian bowlers have had to live with the frustration of watching an edge drop short of a slip fielder.

One can cite more than a few example but it should suffice to just cast one’s mind back to India’s second one-day international against South Africa at Kingsmead in Durban earlier this month. Mohammed Shami induced Quinton de Kock to edge a catch but Ashwin was standing too far back at first slip.

It is relevant to read former Australia captain and coach Bob Simpson’s description of the decision of modern wicket-keepers to stand farther back to pace bowlers as triple-edged sword.

“Good wicketkeepers in the past stood much closer to pace (bowling) than they do now. They liked to take the ball waist high but now glovemen invariably standing further back like to take the ball on the drop just below the knees,” he wrote in The Sportstar back in October 2003.

One of the finest slip fielders the game has known, Simpson went on to list the three results of wicket-keepers standing too far back. “Firstly there is more chance nicks will fall short. As ‘keepers take up a defensive position, bowlers would rather see a catch dropped, than see a nick drop short because the ‘keeper is too deep.

“Secondly by standing deeper the ball has more chance to deviate, particularly down the leg side. This means many catches will be missed because the ‘keeper cannot cover the extra distance. Thirdly and the most vital of all, standing too deep mucks up the pattern of the slips field,” he wrote.

From the time Robin Singh was India’s fielding coach to the incumbent Trevor Penny, this has been a problem. The moot question is: When will the penny drop on the Indian slip cordon so that it improves its chances to taking more catches so that the hard work of the fast bowlers is better rewarded?

Perhaps, the time has come for India to let the slip fielders take their positions not in accordance with where Dhoni is but according to the bounce and carry. If only Ashwin were a foot or so in front of where he actually was, the ball may have come to him at a more comfortable height rather than reach him when it was dying on him.

And, as he showed in catching Vernon Philander on Friday off Zaheer Khan – reaching out to his right to latch on to the ball after it seemed to pass him – it is easier to hold on to the cricket ball that is flying past a fielder rather than when it is dipping agonisingly short.