Sunil Gavaskar’s 1985 book, ‘One Day Wonders’ based on India’s World Championship of Cricket triumph, had an interesting anecdote. Skipper Gavaskar himself, Mohinder Amarnath and Madan Lal were three players above 30 in the playing XI during that tournament in Australia. Whenever one among the three would take a smart catch, field well or get a direct throw right, the others would come and say “Well done OT”.
‘OT’, according to Gavaskar, was the short form of ‘Over Thirty’ — a bit of self deprecating humour to let people know that ‘Age indeed is just a number’. Mahendra Singh Dhoni surely doesn’t have any fancy terms reserved for his bunch of veterans but indeed his ‘OTs’ have done him proud as Chennai Super Kings gear up for their seventh Indian Premier League final.
He has successfully created “chaos in the opposition ranks” with his ‘out of the box’ thinking and made the difficult cricketers “fall in line with team culture” to create a cohesive unit. The average age of the core team comprising Dhoni (36), Ambati Rayudu (32), Suresh Raina (31), Dwayne Bravo (34), Shane Watson (37) and Harbhajan Singh (37) is 34 and half years.
Yet they are a complete antithesis to what everyone terms as ‘Dad’s Army’. But what has been the recipe of CSK’s success despite having to start from scratch after a two-year ban? It again boiled down to the meticulous planning and no wonder Dhoni’s sharp cricketing acumen played a pivotal role.
The reason why Delhi Daredevils is the worst ever IPL franchise is exactly why CSK is at the top of the heap. CSK won half of their battle at the auction table. During the rebuilding phases, the mantra for teams is always to look for young and dynamic performers. For Dhoni and CSK, this year was about instant delivery and they needed experienced players, who knew what it takes to win an IPL.
A look at his core team would show us that all have won IPL titles before with significant contribution from the franchises. CSK’s top run-getter Ambati Rayudu (586) is 100 runs behind Orange Cap holder Kane Williamson (688). Their top wicket-taker Shardul Thakur (15) is way behind Andrew Tye’s 20 scalps.
Yet, the execution of strategy has been much better than other teams with limited resources. If one looks at four major reasons for CSK’s success, the topmost will be batsman Dhoni’s form.
At the twilight of his career, ‘Captain Cool’ has enjoyed his best ever league with 455 runs from 15 games with a strike-rate of 150 plus and to top it all – a total of 30 sixes. Most of his runs have come in tricky situations, which has been Chennai’s biggest gain. Dhoni has had problems against leg spinners but most of the Indian pacers have been butchered by him.
The second important reason would be Rayudu and Shane Watson (438 runs) being consistent at the top of the order. There has been six 40-plus opening stands and either among Watson, Rayudu or like Faf du Plessis, who has provided the team with a platform. The third but the most important point would be tapping the potential of Deepak Chahar. Dhoni had watched him at Rising Pune Supergiants but utilised the full potential of the Rajasthan pacer during this edition.
Chahar’s incisive swing bowling in the Powerplay overs with an economy rate of 7.5 has been the biggest gain for Dhoni. The shift from a sticky Chepauk wicket to a more seam friendly Pune track also played it’s part. Dhoni doesn’t have an Ashish Nehra or Doug Bollinger now for death overs but Shardul Thakur (15) and Dwayne Bravo (13), despite poor economy rates, have bowled many wicket-taking deliveries to win crucial moments.
Last but not the least is being more aware about limitations and turning them into strengths. Getting Lungi Ngidi for Rs 50 lakh, clever use of senior spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Harbhajan Singh as per the demand of the situation has been a masterstroke. Jadeja and Harbhajan were class act against RCB at home and won the match with their bowling.
Dhoni will be playing his eighth final (seventh as captain). He has once again showed that there is a method to CSK’s madness.