After Royal Challengers Bangalore beat Chennai Super Kings by a solitary run on Sunday, while the fans celebrated yet another close IPL contest, the focus was firmly on the three singles turned down by Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the penultimate over bowled by Navdeep Saini. It seemed a strange decision at the time with 36 needed off 12 balls and non-striker Dwayne Bravo also capable of the required big hits.
But Dhoni knows a thing or two about anchoring a chase and almost got the 26 runs required off the 20th over bowled by Umesh Yadav. So on the one hand, one can argue that the singles refused cost CSK the match, but could Bravo had got them this close? This was how Dhoni took CSK to 161, while chasing 162.
A few quiet overs
Scenario: Chennai needing 79 runs from seven overs
Dhoni plan: “The problem arises once you (have) played a big shot and you can’t really (afford to) get out because that puts a lot of pressure on the other batsmen. That’s something we need to calculate. That’s why I think the top three can be finishers, they may do it a few times, but when you bat at 5, 6 or 7 whatever you are calculating you have to put a lot of thinking behind it because you lose one more wicket and the game is over at that point of time.”
CSK played out two quiet overs in the 14th and 15, taking just 9 runs. Chennai had lost a wicket off the first ball of the 14th over when Ambati Rayudu, probably the man deputed to hit out, was taken out by Yuzvendra Chahal. That meant Dhoni had to be careful about not losing his wicket for a couple more overs with no attempt made to go for any big hit. It didn’t help that there was no reliable hitter down the order who can clear the boundary on a regular basis. Marcus Stoinis bowled the 15h over, conceding just six runs.
Scenario: Chennai needing 79 runs from seven overs
Chahal’s plan: “I tried to bowl a few deliveries full and few back of length. I was happy with the batsmen (Rayudu and Dhoni) taking singles.”
For the first five balls bowled by Chahal in this over, neither Dhoni or Ravindra Jadeja, who had come in that 14th over and played himself in quietly, showed any urgency. Perhaps, in hindsight, this could have been the over where they could have tried a bit more. But just when one thought they were respecting Chahal a bit too much, Dhoni came down the track for a monster hit over long-on.
Against Chahal, usually operating on a good length area and at a slow pace, it’s difficult especially for Dhoni to hit from the crease. He doesn’t have the conventional bent-knee slog sweep and had to go down the track to make his own pace, something he doesn’t do too often to spin as normally he skips down the track to chip the ball for a four through a gap or for two runs. But when he decides to throw the kitchen sink, he is one of the best chargers down the track to spinners as he completely heaves himself into the shot.
Perhaps, Dhoni could have taken a bit more risk against Chahal as no one knows more about his bowling than Dhoni. He took 14 from eight Chahal deliveries.
Walk turns into a jog
Scenario: 57 runs needed from 4 overs.
Navdeep Saini was summoned to bowl the 17th over. It came down to 54 from 21 balls just after Jadeja was run out. It was clear that Dhoni had to swing at the next delivery but even here, he didn’t swing wildly. With third man up in the circle, he flashed hard at a short-of-length delivery outside off, knowing that the edge would take it to the third man boundary. Next ball, he went down for a big hit — his first real attempt at a manufactured hit or rather attempt to put pressure on the bowler and see if he wilts — but could only mistime it for a single.
Scenario: 49 from three overs.
The 18th over was bowled by Dale Steyn. Dhoni just waited for the slower cutter from Dale Styen in this over and when it came on the fourth ball, he walloped it over long-on with a flat bat. There is no other attempt at a big hit in this over.
Not in top gear yet
Scenario: 36 from 12
Dhoni’s plan: “I think it was still difficult at death if you bowl that back of the length. It was slightly spongy, it wasn’t coming on to the bat. A lot of boundaries were needed, right now you can calculate, one run there, and two runs there and we just lost by one run. But you can also say we missed some boundaries.”
Saini bowled the 19th over. Dhoni refused singles off the first two deliveries and it was clear he was looking to go big every ball and trusted himself over new batsman Bravo. This wasn’t a mistake but perhaps the decision to send in Jadeja ahead of Bravo was. The third ball was short and rising outside off and Dhoni deliberately upper cut it for six. What happened next was bit of a surprise: three length balls but Dhoni seemed set for a back-of-length (the first three were of that length) and mistimed all three shots.
Only 10 runs come in that over and it wasn’t a result of Dhoni pushing the game into the last over. He didn’t bat too well in this over and the game trickled towards an improbable ask in the last over. The only advantage for him was that he knew it would be Yadav (or Pawan Negi) to bowl the last over.
The eruption — 4, 6, 6, 2, 6…
Scenario: 26 needed from the last over.
Umesh Yadav got to bowl the final over. The best thing was that Dhoni didn’t predetermine any shots. He didn’t jump out, he didn’t move to off or to leg — he stood still and reacted, knowing perhaps that Yadav was likely to tense and mess up. The first two sixes, in particular, would have warmed Dhoni fans.
Last year, he was struggling to pull as effectively as before and there came a stage when he started to just swivel around and place the ball to the square-leg region into gaps. The way he picked up his bat and his hip movement wasn’t quite in line for the powerful pull, but this time he absolutely killed this short delivery out of the ground over midwicket.
Next hit was probably even better as it showed that his bat swing was in a much better shape than before. 18 months ago, it was in some trouble.
His balance at the crease was missing and slowly it had started to affect his bat swing. The bat started to come down from a wider angle and almost forced him into a slightly open-chested action. That affected the ideal hip rotation and he was left trying to generate all the power with his bottom hand that led to him dragging the ball to the onside.
But off the third delivery from Umesh, everything synced in perfectly and he could hold his balance to biff the ball over long-off.
Run, Thakur, Run
Scenario: 2 from the last ball
Until now, Dhoni had to throw his hands at everything and did not have victory in sight. But now perhaps he got a bit restricted in his thinking. Or not as free as before. Or perhaps, he didn’t expect Yadav to hold his nerve so well. Whatever may be the case, Dhoni tried to cut the slow leg-cutter outside off – the first time in three overs he hadn’t swung at a ball hard – and couldn’t make contact. Parthiv Patel was alert – he had his gloves off in anticipation, and threw down the stumps to run Thakur out.