MS Dhoni has the helicopter shot. But he also has the helicopter crash shot. A walking wipe that appears to have been invented for little more than catching practice. His wrists fling the bat upwards like a windscreen wiper to balls outside off stump that most people just use a simple straight bat to deal with. It is a shot that should not be played by any normal human being. Any MCC coaching manuals in the vicinity explode as he plays it. But as impossible a shot as it is, it doesn’t get Dhoni out as much as it should. Mostly because Dhoni is not a normal human being.
Unbeaten on 50 at stumps on day one in Nottingham, what did the richest cricketer in history do? Strolled around Nottingham in shorts and a camouflage jacket like he was a ticket collector from Kharagpur on holiday. In fact, some of his shots look like that too.
There is the shuffle and squash defensive shot. In which Dhoni all but drops a piano on the ball as it turns up. The waddle and whip through the leg side. He leaves the ball by staring straight down at it, like he’s warning it of future slaps. When Nasser Hussain described the different cover drives of M Vijay, Ian Bell and Dhoni, he called the first two cover drives, and the latter a Dhoni cover drive.
Dhoni is handmade. He has unmistakable physicality. There is no stage when he is on the field that you can mistake him for anyone else. He has a sportsman’s body, not an athletic one. The sort who could play point guard, return all serves and play with a three handicap despite never looking all that fit. His walk is more of a waddle than a strut. He never looks toned. And his weightlifter things look like they could hold the weight of the world, if need be.
At times Dhoni barely leaves the crease when backing up. After the ball is bowled Dhoni usually goes down further for advice and support. It will be a slow walk, a word or two. Encouragement, never seemingly anything technical. On his way back he’ll tap the pitch. For a man who hits the ball like it did him a mischief, he taps the pitch like a vet working with a wounded animal. It’s almost as if he’s waiting for the right sound, rather than seeing how firm or otherwise it is.
Whether it’s batting, keeping, walking or emoting, Dhoni does as little as he needs to do. He is a constant conserver of everything. Why waste what you might need later?
At one stage someone excitedly notices that Dhoni refuses the single that will take him to 50 so he doesn’t expose Ishant Sharma. That whole moment generates more excitement than Dhoni does in a whole innings. His whole team has collapsed around him. He’s been the most consistent batsman. He has a chance to get a 50, and he still puts the team fist. The team that has just collapsed in four straight innings. The team that is about to go 3-1 down after leading. But Dhoni just bats.
His leadership is often looked at as what he does when India are in the field. But with the bat he’s often disappointed. He will not go down as an all-time great Test batsmen. His average of 38.77 doesn’t even put him right of the top of the keeper-batsmen list. But he has moments.
In not worrying about being pretty, Dhoni has an advantage. He can’t be made to look silly. While some fret with their techniques and others work out their form, Dhoni just bats. He bats with batsmen. He bats with allrounders. He bats with tailenders. He looks more untidy than them all.
Chris Jordan fires in a straight, full ball outside off stump. Dhoni misses it. People around the ground moan and murmur about how good a delivery it was. The replay shows a fairly standard ball that a top-order batsman should not miss. It also shows a bat hurriedly paddling through the line and all around like a piece of wet spaghetti in a hurricane. Any other top-order batsman would never show his face in the gentleman’s batting club again.
Later Jordan bowls another full ball outside off stump, maybe a bit wider. But it’s as good as the delivery before it. This time Dhoni swats it over mid-off for six. It’s a bludgeon and a punch. His footwork is much like a weekend golfer, and the shot wouldn’t be out of place in any tennis ball game you see. A No. 11 shot.
A Dhoni shot.