Dhoni CSK
CSK Skipper MS Dhoni plays a shot against Mumbai Indians during the first match of IPL 2020 at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, UAE on September 19, 2020. Image Credit: PTI

“Captaincy is 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent skill. But don’t try it without the 10 per cent.” These are the words of Richie Benaud, former Australian captain, who is famed for his insight into cricket.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has the skill, and he’s proved that time and again for India and the Chennai Super Kings. What’s makes him different is his ability to make his luck. He’d try something different. Do something unexpected. He could play mind games. Like he did against Mumbai Indians in the IPL 2020 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

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Requiring 42 to win off 24 balls, Kedhar Jadhav or Dhoni should have come in, but he opted to push Ravindra Jadeja up the order. When the target was 29 of 17 balls, in walks Sam Curran who crunches 18 from 8 balls and the match was as good as over.

Did Dhoni pull a rabbit out of his hat again? Was that one of his gambits? Experts point to the need for a left-right combination to disrupt the rhythm of bowlers. But Dhoni insists that it was purely a psychological move to target the Mumbai spinners. You can see his thinking behind it. Curran, who played the match after landing in the UAE two days ago, called him a genius.

CSK have faith in Captain Cool

If that gave us some insight into Dhoni’s tactical nous, his man-management skills were evident in the manner in which the Chennai team picked themselves up after a series of setbacks. First was the COVID-19 infection to 13 team members, including two players. Then came Suresh Raina’s dramatic departure. And finally, Harbajan Singh’s unavailability.

At one point it even looked unlikely that CSK would be able to play the opening tie. But franchise owner N. Srinivasan and team CEO Kasi Viswanathan had complete faith in Dhoni. In their media interviews, both officials harped on Dhoni’s calmness and his belief in the team’s ability to overcome the body blows. Well, they call him Captain Cool.

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So if evidence of Dhoni’s management skills were needed, it was available at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. Not only did CSK play the IPL 13 opener, but they also won it. There was no mention of Raina or Harbajan, and the victory meant more than the two points on offer. It was proof that CSK are title contenders.

These are the early days. One match doesn’t make the IPL. There’s still a long way to go. Maybe, they’ll miss Raina’s aggression and Harbajan’s off-breaks. But Saturday’s show reflected a team effort. Piyush Chawla, Lungi Ngidi, Curran, Jadeja, Ambati Rayudu and Faf du Plessis played their roles very well. Dhoni would take heart from this performance. He loved the way the Jadeja-Curran plan worked out. No doubt, there’ll be more such surprises.

Who said wicketkeepers can’t bowl googlies?