Updated: September 25, 2020 3:40:09 pm
It’s barely been a week into the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), but the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) captain MS Dhoni’s position in the batting order has already fuelled intense debates from diehard fans and cricketing pundits. While he has batted at No. 7 in the first two games, there is strong cricketing logic for him to bat higher up.
What has triggered this debate?
On Tuesday night in Sharjah, when CSK required 217 for a win against the Rajasthan Royals, Sam Curran, Kedar Jadhav and Ruturaj Gaikwad were promoted up the order. The move backfired, as they failed to create an impact.
When Dhoni walked out to bat at No. 7, they needed to score at more than 16 an over. In the end, it proved to be a Herculean task despite a sensational late attack from Faf du Plessis.
Is this the first time that Dhoni has pushed himself down the order?
Not quite. By and large, he has always preferred to bat down the order. In fact, in 11 seasons with CSK, Dhoni has batted at No. 6 the most, at which position he has scored 4,164 runs in 129 innings.
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In the past, he has been successful batting down the order because he could shift gears seamlessly, take the attack to the opposition, and indulge in one-on-one duels with bowlers. There were instances when he has backed himself to pull off 40 runs from the last two overs of a chase.
Even after all these years, his six-hitting ability has not waned. But the issue with the 39-year-old Dhoni at the moment is that he takes time to get into his groove. In the game against the Royals, he tore into Tom Curran in the final over, bludgeoning him for three consecutive sixes. However, that assault came a little too late, as CSK went down by 16 runs.
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How has the cricketing world reacted to Dhoni’s decision to bat down the order?
Gautam Gambhir, the former India opener and Kolkata Knight Riders captain, said he was surprised by Dhoni’s decision to drop himself down the order. “I was a bit surprised, to be honest,” Gambhir told ESPNcricinfo.
“MS Dhoni batting at No. 7? And sending [Ruturaj] Gaikwad before him, Sam Curran before him. Makes no sense to me. In fact, you should be leading from the front. And this is not what you call leading from the front. Batting at No. 7 when you’re chasing 217? The game was over. Faf was probably the lone warrior.”
Gambhir’s long-time Delhi and India opening partner Virender Sehwag reckoned that Dhoni should have walked out to bat ahead of Jadhav at least. “If over 30 runs are required, those three sixes (from Dhoni) wouldn’t make a difference. I think he could’ve batted above Kedar Jadhav at least. The number of balls Jadhav played — had Dhoni been the one facing them, CSK wouldn’t have finished with the deficit of 17-18 runs that they did,” Sehwag told Cricbuzz.
And what was Dhoni’s explanation for dropping himself down the order?
Dhoni noted that due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, he hadn’t batted for a long time, and was thus keeping himself at the No. 7 position. He also said that he wanted to give opportunities to youngsters like Sam Curran.
“I haven’t batted for a long time. 14-day quarantine doesn’t help (the situation). Also wanted to try different things, give opportunities to Sam. Have the opportunity to try different things. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to your strengths,” Dhoni said.
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So, what is to be made of this explanation?
Dhoni batting down the order appears to be a stop-gap arrangement more than anything else. Given the long, arduous, and frenetic nature of this tournament, franchises prefer to have a bit of flexibility in their batting order. Hence, it’s possible that Dhoni could have been trying out different options.
The injury to CSK’s explosive all-rounder Dwayne Bravo could also have been instrumental in such a move. Bravo has been their incumbent No. 7 batsman, whose entertaining cameos have helped them past the finish line on numerous instances.
But not everyone is impressed.
“It’s not about experiments, saying ‘oh it’s early on in the tournament’. Let me tell you, T20 cricket can bite you very, very quickly. You can end up losing five games on the go very quickly and then you can end up thinking ‘oh my goodness, are we actually going to get into the finals?’ I am not buying into this nonsense,” former England batsman Kevin Pietersen said on Star Sports.
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Ok, so what would be Dhoni’s ideal batting position?
In the absence of Suresh Raina, his trusted lieutenant, Dhoni should ideally bat up the order, preferably at No. 3 or No. 4. By doing so, he would be giving himself more deliveries to face and ample time to settle down before he can go on the offensive. On bigger grounds like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this could well be a good move.
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