Ex-factor: Eyes on MS Dhoni as CSK and MI play IPL final tonight
Struggling to force the pace, MS Dhoni has replaced his natural style with hard graft.
Last season was an aberration. Normal service has resumed. After the unusual play-off stumble last year, Chennai Super Kings have once again booked their customary place in the IPL final. This time, however, there’s a difference. Their very hands-on skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has become a little peripheral, batting-wise. He is yet to take his team on a helicopter ride.
It would be too harsh to call him a flop, for Dhoni has scored 354 runs in 16 matches this term. He’s the third highest run-getter for his team behind Brendon McCullum (436) and Faf du Plessis (397). It’s his strike-rate which is under the scanner. At 121.23 runs per 100 balls, it has been pretty average by Dhoni’s lofty standards.
Compare this with his batting performances over the past seven editions. In 2008, Dhoni had 414 runs in 16 matches at a strike-rate of 133.54. Chennai finished runners-up. Next year in South Africa, he was not that successful, scoring 332 runs from 14 matches at a strike-rate of 127.20. Chennai didn’t reach the final. In 2010, Dhoni barely had a chance to bat as Murali Vijay and Suresh Raina were going great guns up the order. The captain’s role was to finish things off in style and he did that, maintaining a 136.66 strike-rate. Chennai won the title. In 2011, Dhoni’s strike-rate was even better; 158.70. Chennai won the IPL again. In the next three years, he finished with strike-rates of 128.41, 162.89 and 148.40, respectively. He has always been instrumental in his team’s success. Be it the IPL or the 2011 World Cup final, when Dhoni promoted himself ahead of Yuvraj Singh in a stiff chase — he always led from the front.
So, it’s a bit strange to see him play second fiddle this season. Whispers are turning into questions, has he lost his mojo? In the World Cup, too, he struggled to up the ante against top teams, notwithstanding the fact that he returned with a strike-rate of 102.15.
At No. 5 or 6, Dhoni doesn’t always get the opportunity of scoring big. He is revered as one of the best finishers in limited-overs cricket. But suddenly he’s finding it difficult to force the pace. He has replaced his natural style with hard graft.
Qualifier 2 against Royal Challengers Bangalore at Ranchi was a case in point. He made a 29-ball 26 before nicking one from Harshal Patel to the keeper. His team was still not over the line. Dhoni tried to break the shackles many times. But he either inside-edged his attempted big-hits onto the pads or failed to make proper connection. There was only one four in his innings.
Chennai coach Stephen Fleming said the other day that the team would like Dhoni to score more runs. He asked his top four to build a platform that would allow their captain to launch a late assault. Yes, Chennai’s iffy top order hasn’t helped his cause. Dwayne Smith, Du Plessis and Raina played some poor shots in the last few matches to get out. McCullum’s absence has made things even more difficult. Without him, the team’s X-factor is gone. McCullum’s pyrotechnics upfront allowed his teammates to play at their own pace. Now Dhoni is expected to provide the X-factor, especially at the back end of the innings.
At 34, Dhoni is not getting any younger. He will have to come up with something special very soon to clear the doubts. The IPL final at Eden Gardens on Sunday gives him another opportunity.
History backs Rohit
History, however, will be on Rohit Sharma’s side, for he won the 2013 final against the same rivals at this venue. MI will also carry the confidence of beating Chennai in Qualifier 1. Their captain has had a special association with Kolkata. From his maiden Test ton to an ODI double hundred, the city of joy has never deprived Rohit.
Source:: Indian Express