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MS Dhoni is the ultimate realist, he has always been that way

IPL 2020: After announcing his retirement from international cricket there seems to be even more interest in Dhoni in this IPL, I guess because that’s the only cricket he will be playing from now on.

Updated: Sep 25, 2020, 08:12 IST

By Sanjay Manjrekar,

CSK skipper MS Dhoni during the first cricket match of IPL 2020, at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi. (PTI)

Even in a multi-team format like the IPL, the chatter can still be more about individuals than teams. Sure there are team loyalists who passionately discuss and debate their respective teams’ performances and fortunes, but with the same level of intensity and perhaps even more heightened emotions, are discussions around Dhoni or ‘Thala’ as his Chennai fans fondly call him.

After announcing his retirement from international cricket there seems to be even more interest in Dhoni in this IPL, I guess because that’s the only cricket he will be playing from now on.

Chennai started with a bang in the tournament opener against Mumbai, Rayudu played a blinder of an innings, but Dhoni’s tactics as captain where he batted for just two balls, was the more lingering memory.

Dhoni, the all-time master of run chases, had demoted himself down the order several times and ended up batting at No 7 with the match almost won. This was hard for many to digest.

In the next game, when Chennai lost to Rajasthan, more than marvelling at Sanju Samson’s batting and a superb Rajasthan win, the focus again was on Dhoni. It seems, we just can’t help ourselves when it comes to Dhoni.

This time needing 217 to win, Dhoni kept pushing other batsmen up the order, while he stayed put in the dug out. The asking rate was climbing steeply but there was still no sign of Dhoni.

Fans saw Sam Curran, a 23 year old Ruturaj Gaekwad, Kedar Jadhav all come out, while ‘Thala’ stayed in his seat.

Chennai lost the game, so now there was even more fodder to talk about Dhoni the captain and Dhoni the player.

The thing is, promoting others before him worked brilliantly for Dhoni in Chennai’s first game versus Mumbai. Sending Jadeja and Curran, two left-handed batsmen, made perfect cricketing sense with a left-arm spinner mandated to bowl his four overs. The two left-handers did the job that was expected of them, giving Chennai the win.

In the next game against Rajasthan though, that a rookie like Gaekwad, a right-hander, was put in to bat before Dhoni in a big run chase, raised even more eyebrows.

My reading of all this is that Dhoni is the ultimate realist. He always has been. He is someone who will play Harbhajan Singh in his side and not bowl him at all in a match, because his mind (which is pretty sharp) has assessed that the way the match and the playing conditions have panned out, this is not Bhajji’s place and time to bowl.

He is happy to keep a man of Bhajji’s stature unused. He sticks to cricketing logic

Dhoni realistic about himself as well

It’s the same logic that Dhoni applied on himself in the two games so far; Dhoni, the captain, being realistic and logical about Dhoni, the batsman.

Dhoni is not young anymore nor is he in his prime. He has also been out of match action even more than others. He must have surely felt, that all those batsmen, who went before him, had a better chance of getting cracking immediately to stay in the hunt in the big run chase.

Let’s not forget Dhoni has always needed a bit of time to get into top gear, now even more so. I am amazed that people still keep using Dhoni’s past to justify the present.

Criticisms flew in from all directions, the main emerging point being that a batsman of his stature should be coming up the order in such situations.

But stature has nothing to do with current form or current ability. Current form is the present reality, while stature is permanent—once you have reached a certain level of accomplishment, it will stay with you forever. In the case of Dhoni, we have to ask ourselves, who knows his ability better than he, himself? In fact that has been Dhoni’s greatest strength, knowing his own limitations. That’s been the main reason for all those great successes he has had as an individual and as a captain.

It is why Chennai is a successful IPL team because it’s led by a man who is a genius in making the most with limited means. The hard cricketing fact that this Dhoni wasn’t the right man to go at No 5 in this run chase was accepted by Dhoni the captain. He knew his limitations—his form, lack of match practice, maybe lack of some self confidence too—it was a purely tactical move based on reality. It also showed humility.

It was this same self-assessment, this same formula, that got him to famously promote himself ahead of an in-form Yuvraj Singh in the 2011 WC final. Yuvi may have been in great form, but with two off-spinners Dilshan and Murali both early in their spells, bowling in tandem on a turning pitch, and Yuvi being a known shaky starter against off-spin, Dhoni, the captain, was clear in his mind. It was time to send a right-hander to disrupt the opposition’s plan.

Dhoni is in his prime now, this is 2011, this is 50 overs cricket. He can take his time to get in and then unleash the big shots, this is a situation tailor made for Dhoni, the batsman, thought Dhoni, the captain.

My only reservation against Dhoni in that match versus Rajasthan on Tuesday was that he got just 6 off 9 balls even at that very late stage when the required run rate had gone up to 19.33, thereby killing even a chance at a miracle.

Having said that, you can’t rule out the possibility that those three sixes Dhoni hit, when the match had slipped away, may have raised his own confidence and some form too may have flowed into Dhoni, the batsman.

For now, in the early days of this IPL, we are seeing only Dhoni, the captain, perform at his peak. Dhoni, the batsman, is in the shadows at the moment. As for the rest of the IPL, my guess is that Dhoni, the captain, will continue to remain in the front while Dhoni, the batsman, will remain a step behind. But not at No 7, that’s for sure.


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