Former India captain MS Dhoni addressed the elephant in the room with regard to his batting following Chennai Super Kings' victory over Rajasthan Royals on Monday. He admitted that the first six balls he played could've cost his team on some other day.
CSK were 125/5 after 13.5 overs when MS Dhoni walked in to take the strike. He struggled and scored only 1 run off the first 6 balls he faced. While he recovered to eventually score 18 (off 17 balls), he failed to force the issue on his terms.
Luckily for CSK, some handy contributions from the tailenders took them to a total of 188 from their 20 overs. Later, spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali joined forces to wreak havoc on the Rajasthan Royals batting line-up and helped Chennai register a 45-run win.
Despite CSK's victory, Dhoni's batting came under scrutiny, again.
The question of MS Dhoni's batting position
There is no doubt that MS Dhoni remains a force on the field and behind the wickets but his diminishing returns with the bat have been a concern of late.
In the previous edition, the Chennai skipper scored just 200 runs at a strike-rate of 116.27. It was also the first season in which he missed out on a half-century. CSK were also missing out on the services of Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh, which ultimately showed in their results as they failed to make the play-offs.
This season, however, CSK have gotten off to a good start courtesy of a more balanced line-up which relies on a number of all-round options. This has helped the team settle into a positive rhythm in IPL 2021.
MS Dhoni's batting, however, remains a major concern for the side. His under-par performance wasn't restricted to the game against the Rajasthan Royals.
Dhoni batted at number 7 against the Delhi Capitals - in CSK's first match of IPL 2021 - where he was dismissed for a second-ball duck.
The general consensus is that Dhoni will take some time to get settled. If he goes for his shots too early, the result is expected to be similar to the one against the Delhi Capitals on April 10 - which saw CSK lose by seven wickets. Experts are divided on the issue. Some have suggested that the CSK skipper take it easy with the bat and instead focus on his captaincy.
A solution to this problem is not easy to come by. The question has primarily given rise to two schools of thought.
The first highlights the need for MS Dhoni to move up the order. The other prefers him to keep batting lower down.
With regard to the former argument, Dhoni's numbers back the case. He has batted at number 4 and number 5 the most times in his IPL career for CSK. He has scored 1538 runs at No. 4 at an average of 36.62 and 1928 runs at No. 5 at 47.02.
However, MS Dhoni's recent strike-rate would call this option into question. In addition, CSK presently have the likes of Moeen Ali, Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu in the higher middle-order. Given Dhoni's current form, it would be counter-productive for CSK to replace any of these guys in favour of their captain.
On the other hand, there are challenges to lower down as well. Ravindra Jadeja has already cemented his position at number 6. Dwayne Bravo and Sam Curran have shown their skill with the bat and won't mind batting in the death overs for CSK. Suddenly, MS Dhoni's number 7 role also appears threatened.
Currently, it might be best to keep MS Dhoni in a flexible place in the lower middle-order. He can bat at number 7 under normal circumstances. In matches where CSK suffer from a collapse or are batting on a slower wicket, he can be promoted up the order to play anchor. In situations where quick runs are needed, Sam Curran and Dwayne Bravo can be pushed up the order over MS Dhoni.
The manner in which the team deals with this dilemma can make or break the season for Chennai.