How often does a team score 27 for 1 in the Powerplay, then struggle to 53 for 1 by the halfway stage, and still end up getting to 179 for 4?
Not often, that’s for sure, but when MS Dhoni is pulling the strings, and it’s Chennai Super Kings’ men in yellow out with their bats, anything can happen. We’ve seen it over ten seasons now.
How did it work on Wednesday at Chepauk? Shane Watson fell first for a nine-ball duck. Faf du Plessis was 21 off 30 balls before making it 39 off 41. Suresh Raina provided the impetus from No. 3 with a 37-ball 59, but when he fell in the 15th over, Super Kings still only had 102 on the board.
But Dhoni had played the first of his cool gambits of the night already, walking out at No. 4 ahead of Kedar Jadhav or Ambati Rayudu. Remember that one is in the World Cup squad and the other is a stand-by for the trip, both as frontline batsmen (leaving aside Jadhav’s low-arm slingers for now). But both have struggled to get going this IPL, and have strike rates below 100.
Ravindra Jadeja, who walked in after Dhoni – both men returning after illnesses – hadn’t had the best of seasons with the bat either, twice coming out in similar situations and playing out knocks of 6 off 15 and 10 off 20.
And the two of them, Jadeja first and then Dhoni, really put their skates on. The 16th over went for 14, the 17th for 10, the 18th for 14; Dhoni was still on 13 from 12 at that stage, Jadeja was doing all the hitting. Jadeja fell for a 10-ball 25 in the 19th and that’s when Dhoni really turned it on. Hogging the strike, he hit a four and two sixes – off the last two balls of the innings – and, in between, hared across to steal a single off a wide when the strike had turned to Rayudu. He had 44 off 22 by the end of it.
It has been said often, and will perhaps be said again, but Dhoni’s genius when it comes to stretching an innings out and pacing it to perfection is, well, genius. It was on display again on the day, when on a two-paced pitch, after being asked to bat, he puppeteered an incredible batting performance.
A tale of two very different Powerplays
Super Kings hadn’t lost a toss in their last nine games, before Shreyas Iyer ended the streak on Wednesday night. Asked to take first strike, Dhoni quipped that he would have batted first anyway, since he thought there would be very little dew on the night.
As alluded to above, the Super Kings openers were then restricted by the sharp Trent Boult (2-0-2-0) and Capitals’ debutant J Suchith (2-0-5-1) and were on track to record the lowest Powerplay score of the season before Suresh Raina’s flurry of boundaries took them to 27 for 1.
While Dhoni’s frenetic finish meant their Powerplay cracks were papered over to a large extent, Super Kings’ approach was put in stark contrast by the Capitals top-order batsmen. Shikhar Dhawan and Iyer made the most of the odd loose ball from the home side’s opening bowlers, racing to 59 for 1 by the end of their first six overs.
These are two sides that have contrasting approaches to building a T20 innings, as we have seen all season, but thanks to a combination of factors, the chasing side outscored the side batting first for only the third time in seven games in Chennai this season.
Lightning Dhoni strikes twice
It’s almost a mental image now. Spinner outfoxes batsman, ball turns away into Dhoni’s hands, and that helmeted figure – not necessarily but often in the Super Kings yellow – knocks off the bails before you can see him do it (almost).
After another innings that turned the game in Super Kings’ favour, Dhoni was back to put the finishing touches on a win they ended up utterly dominating. Inside three Jadeja deliveries.
First, Chris Morris. For once, the stumping was so quick that even Dhoni wasn’t sure he’d got his man. After multiple replays, including a front-on shot that conclusively showed Morris’ feet inches off the ground when the bails went off, Capitals’ last hope at getting close to the target had frittered away.
And just to prove that he could do it again, he pulled off a near-identical effort to dismiss Shreyas Iyer. This time, the margin was even slimmer, just a Dhoni centimetre or two, the distance between not out and, in this case, out.
“The way he stumped me was lightning. You can’t blame yourself. I was looking good and I was going to take them on after that over,” Iyer said to the broadcaster after the match – it was the first time he had been stumped in 63 T20 innings. And well, Dhoni ensured there was no one taking on anyone.
With inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman and Shamya Dasgupta