7th October, 2020, Abu Dhabi. Chennai Super Kings, courtesy a stellar bowling performance, restrict the Kolkata Knight Riders to a respectable total. In reply, CSK began in pristine fashion, with Ambati Rayudu and Shane Watson laying the platform for a prospective victory.
Post that though, much like previous encounters in IPL 2020, CSK wilted when push came to shove, even as experienced heads of the ilk of MS Dhoni and Shane Watson watched on. The latter perished while trying to increase the scoring tempo against Sunil Narine whereas the former followed suit a few overs later.
And, though there might be the temptation to pin the blame on Kedar Jadhav, who returned having played a shambolic essay of 7* off 12 balls, one might be better served introspecting further and analyzing the spots where CSK have fallen off cliffs, especially when chasing in IPL 2020.
To put things into perspective, against the Delhi Capitals and the Rajasthan Royals, CSK were accused of lacking intent. On the other hand, against Sunrisers Hyderabad, they just couldn’t accelerate when they wanted to. And, akin to how MS Dhoni has always found himself at the forefront, he was labeled the pantomime villain in each case.
CSK and MS Dhoni have struggled in IPL 2020
Consequently, with CSK’s IPL 2020 season six games old, MS Dhoni’s batting form and position seems to be a scourge of frustration. One that is perhaps hurting the side more, considering that the wicket-keeper has often been their Guardian Angel – one who has, unerringly, dug them out of myriad holes, over the years.
Thus, rather inevitably, even if CSK might not want to admit it, they might be enduring sleepless nights on how they could optimally utilize MS Dhoni’s mercurial, albeit dwindling abilities.
And, while it would be a tad naïve to expect him to rewind the clock each time he takes the field, there are still enough signs to prompt a slight change in outlook, as far as his batting position and modus operandi are concerned.
Throughout CSK’s IPL tenure, MS Dhoni has been the rock around which the franchise’s batting has revolved. During the early years, the wicket-keeper teamed up with a certain Albie Morkel as the pair annihilated bowling attacks. Further down the line, he became the accumulator – one that was willing to play the waiting game, support those around him and then unfurl the cavalry towards the end.
In fact, the numbers back that up pretty extensively. For starters, of all batsmen to have played more than 100 IPL matches, MS Dhoni boasts the second-best batting average (42.37), having remained unbeaten 68 times out of 175 innings, which tallies to a percentage of 38.85%.
Moreover, the wicket-keeper possesses a stunning record of shepherding his teams home, whenever he has batted through till the end. For India, he has accomplished that in 47 different ODIs, with India only losing a handful of ODIs when MS Dhoni has remained unbeaten.
And, though he has tried to play that particular role of the ‘accumulator’ in IPL 2020 too, there are a couple of fundamental reasons why that hasn’t quite worked out.
Firstly, MS Dhoni, rather recently, has developed a tendency to get stuck against the spinners, meaning that he isn’t able to keep the scoreboard ticking without opting for the big shot.
The aforementioned came to the fore against KKR, wherein MS Dhoni couldn’t collect singles and doubles when confronting Sunil Narine – something that forced him to go after Varun Chakravarthy. He failed to get on top of the latter and eventually departed, having attempted something extravagant in the 17th over, an aspect that is just not a part of the ‘MSD play-book of chasing’.
However, that is perhaps where the second and most important facet comes into play, one wherein MS Dhoni’s tried and tested chasing template could come spectacularly unstuck.
Against RR, the former Indian skipper didn’t even attempt the lusty blows. When face to face with DC and SRH though, MS Dhoni just couldn’t find the boundary with any sort of efficiency. In fact, against SRH, the wicket-keeper lost his shape, swung agriculturally at deliveries and failed to play to his strengths.
And, a few days ago, that trend resurfaced when he attempted an unpleasant hoick against Sunil Narine before Varun Chakravarthy ultimately sent him packing, with MS Dhoni playing another uncharacteristic stroke.
Also, as a direct consequence of his absence from the game, MS Dhoni seems to be encountering problems when having to pick the length of the delivery early. Consequently, it has meant that he has been a tad late on strokes and has often had to rely purely on muscle, rather than a combination of power and timing.
While technique and conventional batting has never been the wicket-keeper’s forte, he has, throughout his career, boasted a mechanism that has worked exceptionally for him. And, though there might be an inkling to term his batting style as ‘ugly’, one can’t discount that MS Dhoni has always been a batsman that has rarely ever lost his shape, irrespective of whatever shot he has attempted.
In turn, that has allowed the former Indian captain to be one of the cleanest hitters of the cricket ball – something that he has done on countless occasions, both for CSK and of course, the Indian cricket team. In fact, for a better part of the previous two decades, there weren’t many batsmen who could hit boundaries at will, as easily as MS Dhoni.
For quite a while, there remained a belief that once MSD decided to open up his shoulders, the only question would revolve around how far the ball went. Currently though, that hardly seems to be the case, for the first time in MS Dhoni’s illustrious career, he is finding it tough to clear the boundary when he wants.
Unsurprisingly, he has felt a little anxious at the crease and that was highlighted when he showcased discernible disappointment after his stumps had been rattled by Varun Chakrvarathy. In fact, to the keen watcher, it also indicated that MS Dhoni perhaps knows that he might not be the swashbuckler of yesteryear and that he might want to abandon his ploy of taking matches deep.
For that to happen though, MS Dhoni might have to bat higher up the order for CSK (No.4 for those wondering), not just because it would suit him better but also because it will help the outfit prepare for the eventuality of MSD not being there at the end and taking them over the line.
If MS Dhoni were to bat at No.4, he would get more opportunities to dent the opposition with the big hits, meaning that his receding ‘big hit’ success rate might be offset by the sheer number of times he tries.
Additionally, it would give the wicket-keeper the teething phase he requires to get established at the crease. While there might be the odd (or maybe a couple) game where he uses up deliveries and doesn’t make it count, it would still represent a higher conquest ratio than expecting him to be spotless with his stroke-making towards the end.
Furthermore, though CSK would ideally not have wanted to trial new finishers during the IPL, the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Sam Curran might be accorded more luxury and opportunities to mould run chases their way.
After all, the ‘MS Dhoni method’ only ever worked for a prime MSD. And, when a half-baked MS Dhoni can’t produce similar heroics with that formula, one feels the time might be ripe to move away from it completely.
Most importantly though, a change in the wicket-keeper’s batting philosophy would directly lead to a drastic alteration in the expectations placed upon his shoulders. To put things into perspective, CSK might have to gear up for an MS Dhoni that might succeed only 3-4 times out of 10, rather than the MSD that would invariably come up trumps.
And, that, could end up being MS Dhoni’s biggest mistake too, rather ironically. For so many years, the wicket-keeper has laughed at cricketing logic when people termed situations to be too grave to redeem.
Or, to be even more precise, he has made people dream and believe that anything and everything is possible, as long as he is at the crease. And, even when he is walking into the sunset of his career, those are the exact yardsticks that are being used to measure his greatness.
So, for CSK to optimally utilize MS Dhoni, they might have to concede that the wicket-keeper is not at the peak of his powers and perhaps, may not be the Guardian Angel that stood coolly in the face of adversity and emerged from such rubbles relatively unscathed.
MS Dhoni 1.0 was all about belligerence and brute force, while MS Dhoni 2.0 morphed into someone more calculated but one that inevitably metamorphosed into the extravagant, when the circumstances demanded.
MS Dhoni 3.0 though, might be someone without the craft or the raw power of the years gone by. Yet, the newest version might still be capable of rattling cages and when he does that, boy, isn’t he a sight to behold.
As for now though, CSK might just have to allow MS Dhoni the freedom to express himself in the twilight of his career. After all, that is what MS Dhoni has always asked his players to do and it perhaps seems right that he is given that luxury too, doesn’t it?Published 09 Oct 2020, 15:57 IST