As Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked up to claim his third player-of-the-match award this Indian Premier League season, the crowd broke into chants of ‘Dhoni, Dhoni.’ By the time, he reached Harsha Bhogle for a quick chat, the chants showed no signs of abating.
That’s when Bhogle wondered aloud: “Should I let them go on, they might never stop?”
Dhoni, sporting a content smile, replied: “They will stop eventually because they want to listen to what I say.”
And who in Chennai wouldn’t want to hear Dhoni speak? As he has all season, the Chennai Super Kings skipper had once again delivered a masterclass in batting, wicketkeeping and captaincy. Part of the reason for CSK’s massive 80-run victory over Delhi Capitals was down to how Shreyas Iyer’s team showed little match awareness, the other part was simply down to the presence of Dhoni.
Few players in world cricket command the kind of respect that Dhoni does, fewer still command the mad fan-following that Dhoni does in the IPL. Without ‘Thala,’ as CSK fans like to call Dhoni, the team from Chennai seems like an ordinary one; but with him on the field, they morph into something unfathomable, something intimidating, something magical.
Dhoni was a doubt for the game but with CSK’s form faltering in the last two games, he decided to play despite not being at 100%. The cough still hadn’t left him. But just sight of him walking to the middle with the team sheet in hand for the toss seemed to galvanise the stadium and the team.
It didn’t show initially. CSK have consistently got off to really poor starts. Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis were simply unable to get the ball away and by the time the Powerplay overs ended, the home side had only scored 27 runs.
Suresh Raina, who has also been struggling with the bat, gave them some impetus by scoring 59 off 37 balls. It was a vital innings that saw him begin the process of taking CSK towards a competitive total. He took on the spinners and the pacers… carefully choosing his spots and his areas. But despite that, by the time he was dismissed, the hosts had only reached 102/3 after 15 overs.
Five overs on a difficult wicket would have usually meant 40-50 runs. But Ravindra Jadeja chanced his arm and got some quick runs. Perhaps more importantly, he gave Dhoni a chance to get his eye in. His 10-ball 25 kept things going in the right direction for CSK and then Dhoni took over.
From 13 off 12 balls, Dhoni hammered his way to 44 off 22 balls including 21-run final over. Delhi missed Kagiso Rabada, who wasn’t playing the game due to a stiff back, but that is what Dhoni does – he pinpoints weaknesses and then takes advantage of them. CSK ended up with 179/4 at the end of their 20 overs.
MS Dhoni in 20th over in the IPL:
Balls - 226
Runs - 554
Strike Rate - 244
6s - 46
4s - 39
He has scored about 13% of his total IPL runs in the 20th over
On a difficult wicket, DC knew they were up against it. CSK had three spinners in the line-up and Dhoni to guide them. It was going to be a test of their nerves; a test that they emphatically failed.
DC, who were the table-toppers going into the match, got off to a superb start thanks to Shikhar Dhawan and Iyer, despite losing Prithvi Shaw early. As the Powerplay came to an end, DC was cruising at 65/2.
Now, they needed to pretty much follow CSK’s template and keep wickets in hand for the last few overs. Instead, they did what youngsters often do… they tried to make an impression and one after another, they perished trying to do that.
Perhaps the biggest offender was once again Rishabh Pant. His innings lasted three balls – the first was worked through midwicket for a single, the second was drilled through extra cover for a four and the third was hit straight to long-off. He had a chance of controlling the chase and showing that he is more than just the big shots. Instead, he repeated the same old mistakes. At some point, he will learn. He must.
Dhoni’s CSK is the kind of team that waits for the opposition to make a mistake, they look to give themselves the best chance and they take it deep. DC wanted to finish it. Well, the only thing they managed to finish was their own innings. They were bowled out for 99 – their lowest total and their biggest loss this season. From 65/2 after six overs, the visitors collapsed to 85/8 by the end of 12th over.
Of course, none of this would be complete with a few magical Dhoni stumpings. He had two in this innings – both in the same over; both with centimetres in them. Jadeja was the bowler and he got one to spin past Chris Morris’ bat. The batsman raised his foot for a second but Dhoni whipped the bails off in that time. A couple of deliveries later, the Jadeja-Dhoni combine repeated the dose to send back Iyer. Once again, the batsman barely raised his foot but Dhoni got his timing right.
“It’s something that has come from tennis-ball cricket. Still, you need to do the basics right and then graduate to the next level. If you want to keep like that, you may commit a lot of mistakes. It’s important to stick to the basics,” said Dhoni when asked about the stumpings.
Everything Dhoni does on the cricket field has a certain logic attached to it. His batting, his keeping, and even his captaincy – all swear by the same code. And when he is playing, so does CSK. Dhoni makes CSK a very different team and someone might argue that CSK makes Dhoni a very different player too.
As the night wound down, the chants started once again. CSK did a lap of honour around the MA Chidambaram stadium, the banners came into view once again, the fans cheered loudly and the team responded by hitting tennis balls as souvenirs into the stands.