CHENNAI: MS Dhoni has been there and done that, but on Tuesday night at Chepauk, he made it clear that it was more than “just another final”. CSK have made it to the title round nine times before, but rarely has their ride to the final been as topsy-turvy as it has been this year.
It all started with injuries to their premier pacemen. CSK had punted Rs 16.5 crores on Ben Stokes at the auction but once it was clear he would not be able to bowl, there was no way the team management could fit him into the playing XI.
New Zealand paceman Kylie Jamieson was ruled out and for a considerable length of the tournament, Deepak Chahar – another top buy – was out of action. Add to that the injuries to the two new pacers Mukesh Chaudhary and Simarjeet Singh, and CSK were truly running on thin reserves.
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But Dhoni, himself playing with a severe knee injury, stuck to his plans, took tough defeats in his stride and ensured that the four-time champions are again one win away from the title. TOI takes a look at how it was achieved.
Sri Lankan duo weaving their magic
CSK had to wait a while for spinner Maheesh Theekshana and slinger Matheesha Pathirana who were on international duty. Neither is a superstar and it wouldn’t be too off the mark to say that they are finds of CSK.
The moment these two were available, Dhoni didn’t wait to bring them into the playing XI. Not that they were an immediate success, but Dhoni was adamant that these are the players who will add that zing to the CSK attack that was missing till then.
“I think right from the first game everyone knew about their roles. The Sri Lankans were up to the mark even in their first game,” Ruturaj Gaikwad, who was adjudged the Man of the Match in Tuesday’s game, said. While Theekshana provided the crucial breakthroughs bowling the difficult overs in the powerplay, Pathirana’s accuracy at the death proved pivotal to CSK’s success.
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Continuity the key
Once Chahar returned from injury, CSK didn’t make a single change to their playing XI. There were players like Ambati Rayudu who were not getting runs while Moeen Ali was often underutilized both with the bat and the ball. There was always the temptation to play Stokes when he got fit, but Dhoni was absolutely adamant about his playing XI.
“It is not always about the number of runs. Sometimes those 20 quick runs can make a difference. It is about playing for the team,” Dhoni said. Even on Tuesday, Moeen got only 9 and did not bowl, but Dhoni mentioned how those nine runs at the back-end were important.
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The Dhoni effect
It is the biggest cliché of IPL, but there can’t be any discussion about CSK without talking about the way Dhoni runs his team. “I can be an annoying captain. I tell the fielders to keep looking at me till the last moment… I may instruct them to move a couple of feet here and there. For that, if they drop a catch I don’t mind,” Dhoni said, explaining his tendency to micro-manage on the field.
But it’s his calmness and the way he assigns roles to players, including himself, that makes a huge difference. “I knew I was not fit enough, so I prepared to play only a few balls every game. It was not possible for me to run as fast as I used to between the wickets,” Dhoni said after one of his wins. But he made that up with those lusty blows at the back-end that proved crucial in a few games.
Players like Shivam Dube and Ajinkya Rahane, considered discards by other franchises, were also given specific goals and they delivered. While Dube is the designated spin hitter and Dhoni doesn’t mind if he gets out trying that, Rahane is a floater who plays according to the situation. “Mahi bhai has everything chalked out in his head and it’s on us to execute it,” Rahane said.
All these have worked like a dream and now, if they win on Sunday, Dhoni can leave the stage as the most successful captain in IPL history.