IPL 2023: Captain Dhoni — ‘annoying’ but an amazing leader for CSK
Just ponder this— Dhoni has led the 'Yellove' team to 10 finals and 12 play-offs in all in 14 editions of the league that CSK took part in
In a rather candid admission about his leadership style, Mahendra Singh Dhoni said he can be an ‘annoying captain’ soon after guiding the Chennai Super Kings to their 10th IPL final on Tuesday. One may add he is also a sort of control freak— but with a record like that— which franchise management will be complaining?
Just ponder this— Dhoni has led the 'Yellove' team to 10 finals and 12 play-offs in all in 14 editions of the league that the CSK took part in. They finished as champions four times (2010, 2011, 2018 & 21), apart from winning the now defunct T20 Champions League once— a tally that could have gone up if they were not banned for two seasons with allegations of members of the ownership being involved in betting and match-fixing.
In the two years that MSD was deprived of wearing the yellow shirt, he was a somewhat reluctant captain for the Pune Super Giants in the 2016 edition before being replaced by Steve Smith the next year. He was very much a part of the think tank in Smith’s team that made the finals in 2017, but Dhoni was later blunt in admitting that his heart lay somewhere else during those two seasons.
What makes Dhoni such a unique captain in the IPL ecosystem, where the remote control is in the management’s hands? A comparison between him and Rohit Sharma, who has a superior record with five titles in his 10 years at the helm since 2013, shows that while the current India captain enjoys the confidence of the powers that be, the reins of the management lie very much with the high profile Ambani family.
In the CSK, owners India Cements (read: N. Srinivasan) has given a carte blanche to the much-decorated former Indian captain— whose word is law in matters cricketing— on and off the field. There have been only two instances where the buzz was that all was not well between him and Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja in recent years, but no prizes for guessing who prevailed in the end.
A closer look at the art of Dhoni’s captaincy reveals that unlike in the past when he used to think on his feet and often took calculated gambles, it has become a fascinating combination of cricket intelligence, experience and mind games. This is what he rode on in the current season when knee trouble prompted him to come in at number seven or eight to bat as he openly urged his teammates not to make him ‘run’ much.
The high-profile play-off against the resilient Titans was yet another example of what he brings to the table as a captain. A total of 172 was certainly above-par in Chennai, but the way MSD marshalled his resources could form part of a manual on the art of T20 captaincy. Given that the art of field placement is akin to following geometry, he is a master at it who keeps making adjustments in the positions where a player is fielding— often just ‘’two to three feet’’ and it makes a difference more often than not.
Look at the way he lured rival skipper Hardik Pandya to his doom by playing on his ego. After bringing on spinner Maheesh Theekshana in the last over of the Powerplay, Dhoni noticed that Pandya went for a cut that couldn’t beat the fielder. He reinforced the offside by bringing in Jadeja from backward square to backward point and off the very next ball, Pandya fell to the plan by again attempting a cut and hitting directly into the hands of Jadeja.
Another wily move from Dhoni came before the 16th over, ostensibly to ‘buy time’ and allow the young Sri Lankan speedster Matheesha Pathirana to bowl his remaining three overs at the death. Aware that Pathirana had left the ground earlier and would have to spend the same length of time on the field before he could have a bowl, Dhoni casually engaged the square leg umpire along with a number of teammates and bought time. This cleared the way for the Lankan 20-year-old, a Lasith Malinga clone, to choke the rivals’ chase and pick up the late wickets of Vijay Shankar, Rahul Tewatia and Mohammed Shami and close the game.
Well, that’s Captain Dhoni for you!