MS Dhoni
MS Dhoni, captain of Chennai Super Kings, bats against the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL) at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, UAE, on September 22, 2020. Image Credit: Deepak Malik/Sportzpics for BCCI

One hallmark of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s captaincy is his penchant for unconventional decisions. Call it gambles or gambits, he’s pulled it off many times. That has helped him become one of India’s finest captains. And he elevates his thinking to a higher plane in limited over games. Two World Cups and a Champions Trophy for India, and the three IPL titles on the mantlepiece of Chennai Super Kings bear testimony.

There are times he’s failed spectacularly. That is the nature of the game. It happens when you trod the unpaved path. Dhoni is aware of that. But that doesn’t dissuade him.

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Tuesday’s IPL game at Sharjah was one such occasion where his plans went awry. Rajasthan Royals’ batting was brilliant with skipper Steve Smith and Sanju Samson taking the attack to the CSK. But Chennai’s chase was baffling. There was no urgency at the start, which has been the trademark of CSK chases of big totals. True, the wicket was not conducive to that.

When CSK shifted gears, it wasn’t early enough. Even Faf du Plessis’ flourish came very late in the innings to make an impact. The biggest surprise was Dhoni’s delayed appearance. And when he showed up, the skipper’s hat-trick of sixes in the final over made everyone wonder, why didn’t he come up the order?

Dhoni had sent Sam Curran at No. 4 to stir things up. And that’s precisely what the English allrounder did. That was a perfect stage for Dhoni to come in and take charge. In the company of Du Plessis, Dhoni could have played himself in and launched the attacks.

The Dhoni touch is still intact

That would have sowed panic in the Royals’ ranks. We have seen what pressure can do. Just the previous day Sunrisers Hyderabad floundered from a position of strength against the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Ideally, Dhoni could have come at No. 4 in a situation like this. But even No. 5 would have helped the CSK chase. The towering sixes from Dhoni’s blade showed that he’s not lost the ability to tear the bowling apart.

Dhoni the captain has not always been kind to Dhoni the batsmen. Some of his best innings have come under the captaincies of Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. Captain Dhoni tends to hold back Dhoni the batsmen. He prefers to make the moves, helping other batsmen to do the job. He wants to stay back and finish the game.

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Dhoni also loves to come in when the side is in trouble and steer them to victory against all the odds. Heady stuff. That’s how he forged his name as the best finisher in the game. That may have robbed us of opportunities to watch Dhoni the batsman in full bloom.

On occasions when he’s pushed himself up the order, the results have been fantastic. Remember India’s World Cup victory in 2011, where he finished the match with a stunning six. That’s the typical Dhoni innings at No. 4. A similar effort could have helped CSK on Tuesday. After all, the difference was 16 runs.

Well, these are early games. Dhoni may have factored that in. At the business end of IPL, we may see a different set of tactics from Dhoni. Keep your eyes peeled.