Desert storm of a different kind
MS Dhoni has experienced some heady moments across IPL history but this edition has been a highly forgettable one for him and CSK.
Chennai Super Kings will be hoping for a repeat of their first Indian Premier League-13 game against Mumbai Indians when they encounter the defending champions in Sharjah tomorrow.
For, they have experienced victory only twice after that five-wicket win in the September 19 tournament-opener at Abu Dhabi.
Chennai Super Kings' bottom-place existence is unprecedented and being all but out of the tournament must hurt their fans big-time. To be fair, the men in yellow have been at the receiving end of some hard blows even before their pacer Deepak Chahar bowled the first ball of IPL-13 for them. Chahar was declared COVID-19 positive and their fans had to swallow bitter pills in the unavailability of Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina's decision to return home.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who is placed at the heart of Chennai Super Kings' upheavals, has had to take things in his stride like he has never had to do before in his 13-year journey with the IPL.
It's always a situation of intense pressure when a captain doesn't do enough in his visits to the crease and is severely criticised for his moves as a leader. And no matter how much experts enjoy calling him Captain Cool — and he was — the image of Dhoni that we see on our television sets is not one of calm and poise.
Every move of his has come into focus — from the time he held himself back and walked in to bat at No. 7 on September 19, to his decision to let Ravindra Jadeja bowl the final over against Delhi Capitals last Saturday.
Both the above decisions were laced with some level of logic, though. He didn't want his side to pay for his rustiness during an important run chase in the inaugural game of the tournament against a formidable opponent. Where the Delhi Capitals game is concerned, Dhoni couldn't have bowled Dwayne Bravo because that steely Trinidadian was in the dressing room, hurting from his groin injury.
Dhoni revealed that he was left with two options — Jadeja or leggie Karn Sharma — and he chose Jadeja, who allowed Delhi Capitals to score the 17 needed in the final over.
The extent of scrutiny Dhoni is subjected to, can be illustrated through the fact that even Jamaican sprint ace Yohan Blake slammed the move to have Jadeja bowl that final over. "I think Dhoni made the worst decision in a long while. It's a poor decision to bowl Jadeja at the last part. What happened to Bravo," Blake said on Twitter before being informed about Bravo's injury. Yet, Blake felt Dhoni should have got Shane Watson to be the final-over bowler.
Dhoni doesn't seem to be one who is affected by criticism, but he could well be surprised by the manner in which Krishnamachari Srikkanth has attacked him for his selections. Not only has the 1983 World Cupper been chief selector when Dhoni led India in all formats, he was the mentor of Chennai Super Kings in 2008.
Srikkanth couldn't stomach the franchise's seventh loss and roared on Star Sports Tamil: "Dhoni now says that since the pressure is off, he'll give the youngsters a chance. Come on, yaar. I don't understand this rubbish about the process at all.
"Karn Sharma at least took wickets. [Piyush] Chawla simply goes through the motions of bowling, coming on when the game is already lost. There is no doubt Dhoni is great, but I cannot agree with him or accept this."
Dhoni has had some heady moments across IPL history but this edition has been a highly forgettable one for him and his team. Players whom he once led as India captain have taken opportunities to question his leadership.
Dhoni probably took his strategy of being a down-the-order batsman a bit too far when he came seven down in the September 22 clash against Rajasthan Royals, while chasing 217 with 103 needed off 38 balls. Chennai Super Kings fell short by 16 runs and Dhoni may have made a difference had he come higher up. This was viewed as downright poor captaincy. It's one thing to back youngsters — in this case Ruturaj Gaikwad — and quite another to rule out a possibility of winning the game. That is what Dhoni did by coming in so late. His three sixes towards the end were a treat to watch for some, but it didn't help Chennai Super Kings add two points to their tally. More recently, being run out off a misfield against Rajasthan Royals only added to his cup of misery.
Chennai Super Kings' best game would have to be the one against Kings XI Punjab, against whom a 10-wicket victory was achieved on October 4 when Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis decimated KL Rahul's team. The pair opened in four games. By the way, Dhoni has fielded three sets of openers until now — Murali Vijay-Watson, Du Plessis-Watson and Sam Curran-Du Plessis for the last three games.
Dhoni's smart work behind the stumps must not be discounted in this season of discontent, but his overall greatness must not cloud current perspective.
It does seem that the sabbatical he opted for after last year's World Cup in the United Kingdom has played a role in him not being the spirited, well-oiled Dhoni, whom we have seen over the years. Stress seems to have replaced the competitive glow.
One would have thought an India-retired Dhoni would give rise to a player who'd be more fearless in this T20 gig, but the lion has not roared. It still can, but will it be loud enough?
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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