The 'Dhoni method'
On the face of it, the 'Dhoni method' in T20 cricket is probably a little old-school. Powerplays don't sit on top of their run-scoring pile. Batters hardly take a 360-degree approach. And the team doesn't panic even if the run-rate is below seven till the 15th over. In MS Dhoni's book, the slog-over still remains the period for going ballistic; in home matches on a slow Chepauk surface. Chennai Super Kings' approach this year offers a throwback to the 1992 World Cup-winning Pakistan side under Imran Khan. It was about keeping wickets before going ballistic at the death. Twenty-seven years on, the intensity and nature of the slog-over batting have undergone a radical overhaul, especially in T20 cricket. But there's a striking similarity between Imran and Dhoni; planning, captaincy and calmness-wise.
On Wednesday, Super Kings were 88/2 after 14 overs. Suresh Raina had been rolling back the years to which we would come later. But a total of 150 looked a serious upgrade at that stage. The hosts ended up scoring 179/4 after 20 overs. They hammered 91 runs in the last six overs; 77 in the last five. Ravindra Jadeja's cameo, 25 off 10 balls, provided the impetus. Jadeja got a life on two, when Sherfane Rutherford misjudged a skier at deep backward square and parried it over the rope. But in the context of the game, Jadeja's knock was match-turning. Dhoni came at No. 4 and after 16 overs he was batting on two of five deliveries.
A four against Chris Morris bettered his strike-rate, but the Super Kings captain was still happy playing second fiddle to Jadeja. He threw the kitchen sink in the final two overs. A cracking straight drive to a Morris delivery was his first shot of real aggression. The bowler then attempted a yorker, which slipped out of his hand and ended up as a beamer. Dhoni swung at it one-handed and still managed to clear the long-leg fence. Morris walked up to the batsman and apologised. Dhoni gave him a high five. Trent Boult, in for Kagiso Rabada who was rested, had three very good overs.
Dhoni's charge at the death ruined his figures. Helicopter returned after an elongated hiatus. It didn't have the full follow through, but the ball bisected long-on and long-off for a four. A wallop over deep mid-wicket sent an off-cutter into the upper tier. Boult shortened his length and was pulled over deep-square for another maximum. The 21-run over took the game away from Delhi Capitals. Dhoni remained unbeaten on 44 off 22 balls. He missed the last game due to fever. He wasn't 100 per cent. "No one is ever 100 per cent at this level," Dhoni said at the toss. Towards the back end of Super Kings innings he looked exhausted. But Dhoni still covered the 22 yards quicker than Ambati Rayudu, when Boult bowled a wide in the final over.
For a while, the greatest finisher in white-ball cricket seemed to have lost his finishing mojo. This IPL, ahead of the World Cup, is witnessing the return of the great finisher. Add to this his 'keeping, which never had a slip. The stumpings he effected to dismiss Morris and Shreyas Iyer inside two deliveries from Jadeja bordered on the unbelievable.
If Dhoni's approach reminded of Imran, Raina took the older fans to the more distant past. Axar Patel bowled full, on the left stump. The 'Raina sweep', a falling sweep a la Rohan Kanhai, accounted for a four. He had a collected a boundary in the previous delivery as well, playing a late cut. Shane Watson had hit a half-tracker from Jagadeesha Suchith straight down the throat of deep mid-wicket and returned for nought after facing nine balls. Somebody had to up the ante and Raina did that. On a difficult pitch, his ability to counter spin still remains unmatched. The left-hander was having a below par tournament this season. But this was vintage Raina and his return to form before the Playoffs is excellent news for Super Kings.
Seals the deal
Shikhar Dhawan's fireworks upfront put the visitors in a fantastic position in their chase. Harbhajan Singh made one skid off the deck and cleaned up the opener. At 38 years of age, he is still flummoxing batsmen with his drift. Rishabh Pant welcomed Imran Tahir with a scintillating cover drive. The 40-year-old leggie tossed up the next delivery but bowled it a little slower. Pant was holed out to long-off. Tahir returned with 4/12 from 3.2 overs. Jadeja picked three wickets for nine runs. Capitals slumped to their lowest total of the season, 99, to lose by 80 runs.