IPL 2023: Gujarat Titans need to be wary of Dhoni’s mind games

It’s the same approach Virat Kohli had often used as a captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore

Hardik Pandya and M.S Dhoni (photo courtesy IPL/Twitter)
Hardik Pandya and M.S Dhoni (photo courtesy IPL/Twitter)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It will be a rematch of the first Qualifier in IPL 2023 on Sunday, albeit under much different conditions, when four-time champions the Chennai Super Kings take on holders the Gujarat Titans in the final at the cavernous Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday.

The hype over whether the mighty Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be able to guide the 'Yellove' to their fifth crown — in what looks like the decorated captain’s last IPL as a player — had been subject to some distraction over the controversy of his ‘time wasting’ strategy in the last game against Titans. A plausible interpretation of MSD indulging in a rather lengthy conversation with the umpires, along with a few teammates, was to kill time so that his go-to death overs bowler Matheesh Pathirana can come back to bowl the 16th over.

The takeaway from the incident is the former India captain, the mastermind behind the CSK’s enviable record in the IPL, does not shy away from pulling his weight with the officials of the game if required. It’s the same approach Virat Kohli had often used as a captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, and Hardik Pandya — an unabashed Dhoni fan — must be wary of any possible gamesmanship in crucial moments.

The surface at Ahmedabad is expected to be more conducive for batters than the slow Chepauk one where the CSK defended a target of 172 against the same opponents. The Titans may have run riot against Mumbai Indians on Friday night, but an early loss of Shubman Gill’s wicket tends to put pressure on the champions’ batting line-up, the rest of whom have fired in fits and starts and relied on the consistency of their bowlers to make their second straight final.

Veteran paceman Mohammed Shami, holder of the Purple Cap (28 wickets), Rashid Khan (27) and Mohit Sharma (24) have been their trumpcards while among the batters, skipper Pandya is a distant second to their top rungetter Gill (851) with 325 runs.

 Chennai, in contrast, rode on a prolific opening duo of Devon Conway (625 runs) and Ruturaj Gaekwad (564) while the middle order has been well served by a resurgent senior pro Ajinkya Rahane, Shivam Dube while there are two explosive hitters of the cricket ball at the backend in Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali.

While spin continues to be the calling card for the yellow shirts, Deepak Chahar can be a handful if there is some swing on offer and Tushar Deshpande had been extremely effective in providing breakthroughs.

While Chennai looks better balanced on paper and the presence of Dhoni gives them an edge, it will be a game of small margins. Let the action begin…

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