MS Dhoni made his and Chennai Super Kings fans go through a whole gamut of emotions in this largely disappointing edition. He has been known to be inscrutable as he plots his team’s progress on the field, but betrayed his emotions on several occasions this season.
September 19, beat MI by five wickets
Despite the pre-series turbulence — ranging from Suresh Raina’s withdrawal to support staff testing positive, and truncated practice sessions, they avenged their defeat in last year’s final in crushing manner. Dhoni was all spunk and bounce, as if he were youthful again. Rubbing his stubble at the presentation ceremony, he emphasised the balance of youth and experience in his side. “What really helps youngsters in the IPL is the fact that there are lots of senior players from different countries for 60-70 days,” he stressed. It was the perfect advertisement for his philosophy too: two men in their early 20s, Lungi Ngidi and Sam Curran, set the tempo with their crafty bowling before two batsmen riding their mid-30s, Ambati Rayudu and Faf du Plessis, completed the victory.
September 22, lost to RR by 16 runs
The first sign of muddled thinking. Chasing 217, Dhoni bizarrely strode out at No 7. He struck a fluent unbeaten 29 off 17 balls, explained his rationale of coming down the order thus: “Oh! I haven’t batted for a very long time, you know, and the 14-day quarantine doesn’t really help. I’m slowly trying to get into the tournament.” It was so unusual for Dhoni to not sense the game drifting away from him.
Tired and tested
October 2, lost to SRH by seven runs
It was the night Dhoni’s body rebelled against his mind. On the hottest October night in the Emirates, Dhoni was calmly shepherding a chase, when fatigue seized him. He sank to his knees, poured bottles of water over his head, and staggered back to his feet. For once in his sturdy career, Dhoni seemed knackered. In the end, he seemed a defeated man. A smirk replaced the smile, before he tore into the lack of professionalism that resulted in the third straight defeat of the season: “It’s the professionalism – dropping catches, bowling no-balls. We’re making the same mistakes again.” But he had not surrendered hope: “We’ll come back stronger,” he said.
October 7, lost to KKR by 10 runs
He was spectacular, lunging and leaping, daring and determined. He showed his reflexes are still intact, as he flung sideways to snaffle a thick outside edge off Shivam Mavi’s swipe. No win though, Dhoni himself struggling to play the booming strokes. He blamed it on the batsmen’s “lack of innovation,” with a deadpan expression on his face. Only that innovativeness had deserted him too.
Umpiring the umpire
October 14, beat SRH by 20 runs
Dhoni’s stone-eyed glare and waving hands intimidated umpire Paul Reiffel into changing his decision regarding a wide ball. The Australian was about to turn around and signal a wide, when Dhoni’s spontaneous reaction, apparently, forced a rethink. CSK were extra spirited that day and the win seemed a preface to a famous comeback. Wearing a thin smile, he emphasised on “processes”, a buzzword during his tenure as India captain: “I think we need to think more about the process. You keep winning the games, the points table will take care of itself. No point looking at the table, but we’ll still look at what we can improve. What’s important is to not brush anything under the carpet just because you’ve won the game.”
Words that sparked
October 19, lost to RR by seven wickets
Suffering the seventh loss in 10 games, their season curtained for all practical purpose, Dhoni let his dismay evident, and uncharacteristically pinned the blame on the youngsters. “This season, we were not really there. There were a few chances to the youngsters and maybe we didn’t see the kind of spark that they could have given us to say, ‘okay, push out the experienced guy and maybe make some space for the youngsters’,” he said. It seemed he was defending himself —the tirade that CSK were a team of has-beens, including himself.
He regained his fabled cool and said: “Today, the result, what it really does is give those guys whatever is left in our league stages, they will get a chance and they will have no real pressure on them. They can go out and express themselves.” In fairness, barring Sam Curran no other youngster really stood up under pressure — but the point was lost in the reality of the team’s elderly hands making a negligible impact. The social media wasted no time in trolling and roasting him.
October 23, lost to Mumbai Indians by 10 wickets
The symbolic end to a catastrophic campaign. CSK batted like zombies and bowled like ghosts. There was a sense of resignation in the end. Dhoni, without shedding a drop of emotion, expressed his precise-feeling at that moment. “It hurts.” The words rolled out of his mouth without any perceptible obstructions. Then he said most filmy of all lines: “Even when you’re hurting, you try to smile and take it on the chin.”
Renewal and hope
October 25, beat RCB by 8 wickets
The perfect game, the perfect pitch, the perfect riposte. Dhoni later explained the mindset: “It does hurt when you don’t do well so you try to amplify certain emotions. So that the guys just don’t drop the game. That can leave with 12 painful hours of the remaining time in the tournament. You have to enjoy the game no matter where you are on the table. If you are not enjoying the cricket, it can become cruel and painful.”