‘Ice-cool’ MS Dhoni gives crash course in finishing
Shortly after pulling off what had at best seemed an improbable chase of 206 against Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL 2018, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Chennai Super Kings captain, explained what the role of the finisher is all about.
Dhoni bludgeoned an unbeaten 34-ball 70, a knock comprising seven sixes and a four, and added 101 runs with Ambati Rayudu, who scored 82 in 53 balls, as Chennai scored the 80 runs required in the final six overs to seal a five-wicket victory with two balls to spare.
With AB de Villiers scoring an audacious 30-ball 68 in the first innings, lifting eight sixes along the way, and Rayudu going over the fence eight times as well, the match saw a total of 33 sixes – an IPL record.
But as ever, Dhoni took the limelight, pulling off a mammoth chase, his awareness of the match situation a standout feature.
“His ability to let balls go for wide and his presence of mind never ceases to amaze,” said Stephen Fleming, the Chennai coach. “We haven’t seen it as much, the gaps between (such) innings have been bigger, but in this IPL his batting has been excellent, and the innings today was one of the best ones I’ve ever seen.
“It was a Dhoni special and an amazing win. We have some players who are experiencing this for the first time in our side; they were absolutely gobsmacked the way he finished this game… That one shot over point towards the end of the innings was one of the top three shots I have ever seen. I’ve seen a few in this game itself, with AB de Villiers, and in the context of the game, taking the score down to 21 was just ice-cool.”
It was certainly ‘ice-cool’, but Dhoni’s knock wasn’t just about the runs. It was about the efficiency of his SWOT analysis during a chase. “What is important is to know who are the bowlers that are left, what are the options (their) captain has got, who is their best bowler on that particular wicket and who you can take on when it comes to the conditions and the variations,” explained Dhoni.
“I’ve always felt it’s quite simple – you may win a few games, and you may lose a few. The people around you, if you can help them with who they can target according to their strength … not everybody knows what kind of game theirs is, and what really is their strength.”
In this case, Virat Kohli had bowled out Umesh Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, his strike bowlers, early in the innings, hoping to hit early and hard at the Chennai batting line-up.
“The thinking was Chennai have got a long batting line-up,” said Quinton de Kock, who scored a 37-ball 53 for Bangalore. “We were looking to get early wickets, which we did too. We got some quick wickets and then our bowlers were trying to pick up one or two more wickets.”
That played right into the hands of Dhoni, though. Mohammed Siraj and Corey Anderson shared the last four overs, and in the penultimate over, Siraj sent down three consecutive wides. The mind game was won.
In the final over, with 16 runs required, Dwayne Bravo managed consecutive boundaries off Anderson, leaving it for Dhoni to finish things off with a trademark six. And he did just that.
Finishing, however, is about much more than that. “You can score runs, but if you can help others score at that point in time, run quick runs in the wicket, tell what the bowler will be looking to do according to his batting style – all those things matter,” Dhoni said.
“It’s not just about me batting at the death. (It is about) sharing that with the youngsters and helping them get that experience. Tomorrow I may not be batting with them, I may get out, but he needs to do the job.”
De Kock also admitted that Dhoni had worked around Bangalore’s plans expertly, saying, “We thought our thinking was spot on but when you have got a guy like Dhoni, he knows how to outwit certain bowling at the death.”
Victory pushed Chennai to the top of the table on net run-rate, over Kings XI Punjab on second spot. Bangalore remained in sixth spot, following their fourth loss in six games.