One of the biggest talking points leading into this year’s Indian Premier League was the comeback of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He had last played a professional game of cricket at the ODI World Cup in July 2019 and there was plenty of excitement to see him get back in action.
In the first match of the season, Chennai Super Kings got the better of defending champions Mumbai Indians and Dhoni showcased his brilliance as a captain yet again by making some smart moves through the game.
But for those waiting to see Dhoni the batsman, the opener proved to be a dampener. The former India captain came out to bat at No 7, faced just two deliveries, and didn’t score a single run as Faf du Plessis finished off the chase.
Then came CSK’s second game, against Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday. Opting to field first, the men in yellow were sent on a leather hunt as RR piled on 216 runs thanks to half-centuries Sanju Samson and Steve Smith.
At the halfway stage of the match, it seemed we would finally get a good look at Dhoni’s batting as CSK would need to push hard for a win.
Sadly, though, it turned out to be another disappointing night for the legendary skipper’s legion of fans. Not just because of the defeat, but because of some questionable tactics by him.
Dhoni was expected to play a major part in the chase and lead from the front. But just like the first game, he only came out to bat after the loss of five wickets. The likes of Sam Curran, debutant Ruturaj Gaikwad and Kedar Jadhav came to the crease ahead of him, and none of them could make a significant impact as Chennai lost the game by 16 runs.
The skipper came out to bat in the 14th over, when his team needed an improbable 103 off 38. Dhoni could only manage 10 runs off the first 13 balls he faced but he ended up hitting three consecutive sixes in the final over of the match. This didn’t really help his cause as many pointed out his boundary-hitting prowess could’ve helped CSK had he batted earlier.
On his part, Dhoni was honest when asked in the post-match presentation ceremony about his decision to bat so low down the order.
“I haven’t batted for a long time. The 14-day quarantine didn’t help either. I also wanted to try different things, give opportunities to Sam. Have the opportunity to try different things. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to your strengths,” he said.
CSK coach Stephen Fleming too backed Dhoni’s move to let others bat ahead of him.
“We have this question every year. He was in the 14th over, which is pretty much optimal time, and sort of batted accordingly. He is coming back from not playing a huge amount of cricket,” he said.
“So, the expectations to see him at his best is gonna take some time. But you see him towards the end, he was very good. MS is a specialist towards the end of the innings, always has been.”
However, there were those who didn’t see logic in Dhoni’s move. Former India cricketer Gautam Gambhir for one, didn’t mince his words while calling out the CSK talisman.
“This is not what you call leading from the front. Batting at No 7 when you’re chasing what... 213 (217)? The game was over,” Gambhir told ESPNcricinfo. “Yes, you can talk about MS Dhoni’s last over, but it was of no use, to be honest. It was just all personal runs.”
Virender Sehwag was critical in his assessment as well.
“I feel Dhoni could have batted higher up or even sent Ravindra Jadeja to bat after Sam Curran got out. The run-rate slowed down in the middle overs. If that hadn’t happened and about 20-22 runs were required to win in the last over, the three sixes that Dhoni hit would’ve made people say ‘wow, what a finish’,” Sehwag told Cricbuzz.
“If over 30 runs are required, those three sixes wouldn’t make a difference. I think Dhoni could’ve batted over Kedar Jadhav at least. The number of balls Jadhav played, had Dhoni been the one facing them, CSK wouldn’t have finished with the deficit of 17-18 runs that they did.”
On Twitter, too, there were many who questioned Dhoni’s methods:
So, what is your opinion on the matter: did Dhoni make a blunder by demoting himself in the batting order or like he said, he should be given more time to settle into the tournament?