MS Dhoni and his yellow army of the Chennai Super Kings enjoyed dominance in the Indian Premier League (IPL) ever since its inception in 2008. Runners-up in the inaugural edition, CSK won the title twice and ended as runners-up on three occasions. CSK reached the play-offs in all eight seasons that it participated in and the squad wore a complete look across editions.
Dhoni, in charge since 2008, was in complete control, of both the squad and proceedings. He is a different skipper when the slower bowlers are delivering the goods, and he revelled in the turning conditions Chepauk – home ground of the CSK – offered. In the 39 matches CSK played at the venue, they managed to win 26 out of those. Add to this the 3-1 win-loss record they enjoy in the Champions League – a tournament they have won twice.
The yellow brigade stuck to a plan. Player-turned-coach Stephen Fleming formed a nice partnership with Dhoni and together they constructed an all-bases-covered unit, brick by brick. There was a pattern to the success – strong opening combination, stability in the middle and fire at the death. In the bowling department, there were no tearaway seamers but effective operators who could give the skipper a headstart in the powerplay and lay the platform for the slow bowlers – MSD’s trump cards – the licence to attack.
Dhoni has repeatedly emphasised that a “skipper is as good as the team.” This season, the ninth of the cash-rich league, Dhoni tuned out in different colours. The King was in the hues of pink and blue, and was without the company of the players who had done the job for him on a consistent basis.
Rising Pune Supergiants it was, and hopes were pinned on Dhoni to infuse his magic. At the auction, Pune did a decent job and managed to scalp Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Kevin Pietersen, Steve Smith, Faf du Plessis and the little-heard M Ashwin. Who they missed? Dwayne Bravo, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith – the very formidable group of five.
It’s okay, one would have thought before the start of the league. Dhoni still had Ashwin, openers in Rahane and Faf, and stability with Smith and KP. Little did they know how the script would go horribly wrong in their first season.
Pune have been the most affected team when it comes to injuries this IPL. It was definitely turning out to be a Injured Premier League as the team lost the services of Smith, KP, Faf in the first half of the season. The kind of experience the trio had under their belt, it was definitely a major loss for the debutants. Smith, in particular, was injecting a lot of urgency in the middle overs and his departure derailed their campaign just when it was looking to gather steam.
Starting from M Muralitharan to R Ashwin to R Jadeja, CSK have had quality spinners in their ranks. This season, Pune had the two Ashwins but M Ashwin was a weak link in the XI. Dhoni continued to underbowl R Ashwin and his move to bowl M Ashwin in crunch situations backfired. The young leggie did manage to pick a wicket here and there but his economy hurt the team. He would bowl three top overs and just when the team wanted a tight one, he would leak runs. Dhoni replaced him with Adam Zampa after the May 5 game against Delhi Daredevils, and the move has so far paid off. The leggie has already registered the best figures in the IPL when he scalped 6/19 against SRH on Tuesday.
Chepauk had been a good ground for Dhoni. He enjoyed a good win-loss percentage there but the same has not happened in Pune – home ground of the franchise. All three wins for RPS have come away from and they’ve lost all five matches at home. The conditions there don’t really assist the slow bowlers – something which Dhoni hasn’t enjoyed. Be it for the Blues of India or Pink of RPS.
Dhoni has persisted with the combination of Thisara Perera and Rajat Bhatia but none have come close to delivering what Dwayne Bravo did for them in the Yellows, or what he has been doing for the Suresh Raina-led Gujarat Lions. This was one area where Dhoni managed to turn the tide of the game in the last eight editions but it wasn’t the case this time around. Mitchell Marsh was doing a decent job before he joined the injured lot.