IPL 2021: Understanding the importance of MS Dhoni to this CSK side

MS Dhoni
MS Dhoni
Sai Krishna
Modified 01 May 2021

As the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) gear up to face eternal rivals Mumbai Indians (MI) in the Indian Premier League (IPL), an air of invincibility surrounds the Men in Yellow.

With five comfortable wins on the trot and a different Man of the Match in each victory, CSK are running away with the league stage. It's tough to imagine them not qualifying for the playoffs, since they appear to have all bases covered. And the most important base of them all, captaincy, continues to be manned by the effervescent MS Dhoni.

Dhoni isn't the player he once was, even if he hits the odd authoritative maximum and demands eyeballs be trained on him whenever he's at the crease. MS Dhoni the batsman isn't as important to CSK anymore, but MS Dhoni the captain certainly is.

CSK aren't as reliant on MS Dhoni as they once were

MS Dhoni
MS Dhoni

MS Dhoni has played only 30 balls this season. He has batted lower down the order on most occasions, apart from a game against the Kolkata Knight Riders where he strolled in at No. 4.

Recently, when CSK have needed someone to shepherd the team over the line in a tricky run-chase, Ravindra Jadeja has been their go-to man. In fact, even in first innings, when the Men in Yellow have had to accelerate towards the death to set an above-par total, Jadeja has been thrust into the middle and asked to deliver.

MS Dhoni, happy to take a backseat whether it be at the non-striker's end or in the dugout, has not been much more than a spectator with the bat. CSK's long batting lineup also comprises of Ambati Rayudu, Sam Curran and Dwayne Bravo, and the 39-year-old hasn't let his ego get in the way of his clear second-fiddle role.

We may still see Dhoni come up the order, in the event that he's needed later in the campaign during an important game. He needs balls under his belt, especially since he hasn't played any competitive cricket apart from the IPL for over a year.

But MS Dhoni the batsman hasn't been imperative to CSK's success in IPL 2021.

MS Dhoni's captaincy is still invaluable to CSK

MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming
MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming

On the other hand, MS Dhoni the captain has been the driving force behind CSK's stellar run this season. He's been a consistent presence behind the stumps, with his dropped catch of Jonny Bairstow a rare aberrance in an otherwise solid wicket-keeping display.

Dhoni's bowling changes and field placements have stifled opposition batsmen in the powerplay and during the middle overs. He hasn't been afraid to set unprecedented fields and ask his bowlers to execute unorthodox plans, often taking opponents by surprise with his creativity.

For example, in the previous game against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, Manish Pandey saw himself confronted with a 5-4 field against Lungi Ngidi. No fielder was in the circle on the leg-side, with fine leg being distinctly square and the others manning the boundary for Pandey's distinctive front-leg-clearing heave across the line.

The off-side, on the other hand, saw two fielders close together in the point region, minimizing the effectiveness of the cut that Pandey plays so well when he's allowed to free his arms. The same field was used to David Warner as well, and both batsmen never really broke free of their shackles.

This isn't the only instance of MS Dhoni's smarts coming to the fore in IPL 2021. Andre Russell was brilliantly outfoxed by a leg-lined delivery, and although the CSK captain claimed in the post-match presentation that it wasn't a thought-out plan, it wouldn't have been possible without the field which suggested Sam Curran would fire it wide.

MS Dhoni
MS Dhoni

In the middle overs, where the CSK finger-spinners have wreaked havoc, MS Dhoni has been his masterful self. The occasional trick has been missed, as Imran Tahir saw an edge fly through the vacant slip region against the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

But overall, Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali have been clearly told exactly what they need to do from behind the stumps. The two spinners have delivered what has been asked of them in almost every match.

Perhaps the most telling "MS Dhoni moment" this IPL has been an off-field decision. Ruturaj Gaikwad, who could barely buy a run in his first three games of the tournament and looked completely out of sorts, had one foot out of the door of the playing XI.

But Dhoni backed the 24-year-old to come good, even as prolific batsmen like Robin Uthappa and N Jagadeesan warmed the bench. Gaikwad has entered a rich vein of form, and the former Indian skipper casually remarked that he's been employing psychology throughout his leadership tenure.

The IPL has never seen anyone like MS Dhoni, and never will. As CSK approach the next chapter of their storied history, with a mega-auction scheduled for next year, they will take heart from the fact that they've managed to win games without Dhoni's services as a batsman.

And CSK will also hope that their biggest match-winner over the years remains associated with the team in some way - if not as a player, as a member of the support staff who can give his players valuable wisdom.

Published 01 May 2021
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