After they played like a squadron without commander at Hyderabad, Dhoni’s comeback at Bangalore was a huge boost for CSK. They were up against a team they had beaten seven out of seven times in their previous meetings. Things couldn’t have been brighter for Yellow Brigade.
There was some spongy bounce on the pitch when play started, but not many captains would place two fielders in the slip cordon against the world best batsman coming on the back of a match-winning century in the last game. But when you have Dhoni, you have a plan. A bowling attack that looked completely out of sorts at Hyderabad was now punching above its weight simply by playing according to the set pieces laid down by the captain.
Dhoni knew he had to take that risk to get Kohli out early. Deepak Chahar had all the encouragement he needed to be brave and bowled a full, slightly-wide delivery on the driving length that Kohli edged to the keeper. It was the first of many comprehensive wins for the Dhoni plan during the game.
Jadeja was brought into the attack at the end of Powerplay. AB de Villiers has very few weaknesses in his game, but he has shown a slight chink in his armour against left-arm spinners over the past few seasons in the IPL. The plan worked perfectly once again as AB miscued one straight to his childhood buddy Faf du Plessis in the deep, off Jadeja. Strike two for Dhoni and CSK had the ascendancy in the game in the first half hour.
Parthiv Patel and Akshdeep Nath built a good partnership to show everyone that this is still a characteristic Chinnaswamy pitch where the batsmen can score freely if they stay in. But Dhoni was on the button with his bowling changes throughout the innings and never allowed the RCB batsmen to really break free. Wickets kept tumbling at regular intervals, and Dhoni’s well-calibrated fielding and bowling plans ensured there weren’t any really big overs even at the death.
161 was a bit below par for the Chinnaswamy pitch and the outfield. Even Parthiv Patel admitted it during his mid-innings interview. Normally, you would say Bangalore are down and out with a total like that against CSK in the first innings. But this unit had a certain Dale Steyn in their bowling attack.
Chennai have been dominant on slow pitches this season, and there have been quite a few of them everywhere we go. Wankhede is one of the rare pitches this season with some pace and bounce, Chinnaswamy is another. They are not fast bowling paradises by any means but they are surfaces where fast bowlers can get some purchase if they bend their back.
At Wankhede, CSK were 33-3 in no time thanks to early strikes from Malinga and Behrendorff. At the Chinnaswamy on Sunday night, they were 6-2 and then 32-4 inside the powerplay. Dale Steyn had exposed CSK top order’s susceptibility against bounce and seam movement with some generous help from Saini and Yadav.
Losing a couple of games along the way in the league is inevitable. But once you start forming a pattern in your defeats, then it becomes a worrying sign for the team management. Chennai’s top order has failed them on multiple occasions and with the Playoffs not too far away, it gives other teams a genuine weakness to capitalise on.
If the Top order needs inspiration, they need to look no further than their captain. Dhoni is the perennial saviour in whichever team he plays, but that shouldn’t give rest of the batsmen an excuse to relax. The way Dhoni prepares and plans for every situation of the game is something the rest of the team needs to emulate.
Dhoni came in at the fall of Kedar Jadhav’s wicket inside the powerplay. The team had gone nowhere in terms of run scoring till then. Kohli sensed the chance to get away with some of his fifth bowler quota knowing that Dhoni is likely to go slow at the start. But Dhoni is usually one step ahead of the game in such situations. Even though he couldn’t take too many risks, he ensured that Stoinis and Negi weren't allowed to get away cheaply.
A few calculated risks against the lesser bowlers kept CSK in the hunt. Chahal was a threat in the middle overs, and Dhoni along with Rayudu was intent on just seeing him off without any damage. Tags like the “Greatest finisher of all time” sit easy on Dhoni. He bats with zero ego. He targets the weaker links in the opposition and tries to get the maximum return against them. That sort of percentage cricket gives him the consistency to deliver for his team time and again.
Dhoni’s only real support in the middle was Rayudu who played a few shots in the middle over but eventually perished to the guile of Chahal. With no support at the other end, Dhoni’s brain was now in extreme calculation mode.
A few eyebrows were raised in the commentary box when Dhoni started refusing singles in the 19th over even with a recognised batsman like Dwayne Bravo at the other end. A six in the previous over against Steyn had ensured that CSK were still in with a chance, but surely not taking singles can’t be a part of the plan.
Anyone can make plans, but backing yourself fully to execute them without worrying about the brickbats from fans and critics is what separates Dhoni from the rest. It shows in his captaincy also where he has the guts to drop Harbhajan Singh even after a man of the match performance. It requires a clear head and clear intentions.
Dhoni knew exactly what he was doing. He knew better than everyone else how the pitch was playing, and what Bravo is capable of. He had fed all the factors into his brain, applied his winning formula and came out with the result that keeping strike even at the cost of one run gives his team the best chance to win, so that’s exactly what he was going to do. The Dhoni approach has no half measures.
With 26 to get in the final over, most people would back the bowler. But when the opponent at the other end is Dhoni, you know the bowler isn’t completely backing himself. These are the contests that Dhoni thrives on. When all variables are out of the game, it was mano-a-mano from here: batsman, bowler, six balls. Like Russian roulette one of them will live to tell the tale, one of them will perish. Dhoni has the bigger heart and bigger appetite than most opponents he has met on the road in his long career and his reputation precedes him in these matchups.
When Dhoni hit sent the second ball of the final over, from Umesh, to the roof of Chinnaswamy, you knew he meant business. For Dhoni in these situations, optics are a part of the plan. If he hits a huge six early in the over, it has a demoralising effect on the bowler and makes Dhoni’s job slightly easier for the rest of the over. Two more sixes in the over brought CSK in touching distance of the target, but Yadav kept his nerve somehow and bowled a perfect slower delivery the last ball of the over, combining with Parthiv Patel to take RCB past the finish line.
The game could have easily gone their way last night, but more than the outcome, CSK need to think about the inconsistent returns from the top order. A team reduced to a one-man show often falters at the most critical of junctures.