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IPL 2024: Should MS Dhoni bat ahead of Ravindra Jadeja for CSK?

IPL 2024: With Ravindra Jadeja not consistent in finisher’s role for CSK, there is a strong case for Dhoni to bat higher than No 8.

Should MS Dhoni be batting higher this IPL? If he is going to deny singles to Ravindra Jadeja, as he would do on a wondrous throwback knock on Sunday night, then does that mean he should promote himself ahead of the all-rounder and perhaps even Sameer Rizvi. After impressing the Chennai Super Kings think-tank with his power-hitting in the pre-season, against Delhi Capitals on Sunday, Dhoni showed he is in good touch.

The context we all know: this is probably his last year as a player, he has already stepped down from captaincy and his coach Stephen Fleming and franchise’s talking heads have hinted at how he intends to mentor, guide, and usher in confidence in the team that they can exist without him in the future.

So why would he then not give young Rizvi chances galore at this stage in the competition to experience such situations? Why wouldn’t he give Jadeja, the man who won CSK the final last year from a tight corner, chances to find his feet. And as for denying singles, it was a night it was coming off for himself – why wouldn’t he seize the moment, swing away, and set himself for a such a situation that might land later in the tournament? In a tight corner at the business end of the tournament, he might well push himself up if needed. Even at the 2011 World Cup, only in the final did he make that move, not in every tight game. It was the young Suresh Raina who joined Yuvraj Singh in a pressure-cooker situation against Australia in the quarter-final then.

Vintage Dhoni 👌#TATAIPL fans were treated to some strong hitting by MS Dhoni

Watch the match LIVE on @JioCinema and @StarSportsIndia 💻📱#DCvCSK | @ChennaiIPL

— IndianPremierLeague (@IPLMarch 31, 2024

On Sunday night, his cameo may have made the fans go wild as the predominantly yellow stands got another coat of the colour during what was, on paper, a home game for the franchise representing a city almost 1,400 km away by road.

The asking rate was above 18 runs an over (72 needed off 23 balls) when Dhoni strode out to the middle with the bat for the first time this IPL season. Jadeja, who won CSK the title last season when 10 were needed in two balls, was struggling for rhythm and had just 11 from 10 balls.

The match was effectively in DC’s pocket, barring any last-minute miracle. But the whole narrative turned on its head once the former CSK captain appeared. What happened for the next 15 minutes was a sight for the sore eyes of the faithful as Dhoni used his bat as a bludgeon to smash four fours and three sixes in a 16-ball unbeaten 37. He farmed the strike and refused singles, dealing almost exclusively in boundaries.

It was not all romantic fairytale rewind though as he couldn’t drag the team past the line. Even after a hurricane cameo and plundering South African speedster Anrich Nortje for 20 runs in the 20th over, CSK fell short by 20.It makes the point that the game was gone before Dhoni took strike.

Hero worship?

A fallout of the whirlwind fury was that it took the shine off Rishabh Pant’s Delhi Capitals, who tasted their first victory of the season in three attempts. Dhoni’s brief and, in some sense inconsequential, knock hogged all the screen space. Perhaps all the airtime on Dhoni was unfair on DC, but that’s the nature of the beast. It used to be all Kohli in the last decade of Indian cricket; just the sheer number of packages around him on various broadcasting networks tell a story. Or how the cricketing nation would react in the 90s when Tendulkar scored and India lost badly; many still went home happy that their hero had scored.

CSK batter Mahendra Singh Dhoni plays a shot during the IPL 2024 match between Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Capitals, at Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium, in Visakhapatnam, Sunday. (PTI Photo)

Undoubtedly, starpower still reigns supreme when it comes to India’s all-time greats. Sometimes, winning hearts and making people happy is considered more important – especially for Brand IPL – than winning a match. After all, with a game, sometimes two, every day, it isn’t easy to remember every result after a few days. What remains with the fans are the memories. Was Dhoni essentially playing to the gallery in a lost cause?

Former Australia captain Michael Clarke provided a blunt take on how the mood at the ground changed when he came out to bat in Visakhapatnam on Sunday. “When Dhoni walked out, it felt like CSK had won.”

But Mike Hussey, who has been a star player for CSK for years and the current batting coach, answered the question about Dhoni’s batting position.

”I think we’ve now got MSD at 8 which is crazy. And MSD is batting pretty well at the moment (in the nets) because we’ve got so much depth in our resources, it means that the players up the order, if they are in two minds, take the positive route. They will certainly have the backing from the coaches and captain. We prefer them to keep pushing the game forward.”

Fleming put his usual twist on the Dhoni finish. “It was beautiful wasn’t it. He has been playing incredibly well pre-season. He is coming back from quite a serious injury. His batting has been superb. It gave us a positive vibe towards the end of a tough day. To get within 20 (runs of the target) run rate wise is important and he knows that.”

One has seen the hostile reception Hardik Pandya has received wherever he has played this season, for no fault of his. Dhoni is at the other end of the spectrum, where he makes home advantage almost redundant for an opposition team. Will Dhoni continue to bat where he did against DC? On the evidence of Dhoni’s preference and the batting riches at CSK’s disposal, their campaign will not be defined by his batting contributions. One thing though is clear after this brutal knock: no opposition is going to rest easy thinking job is done and only a 43-year old man is left. That potential pressure on the bowlers alone and the damage it can wreak on their psyche is the achievement of this knock that can only benefit CSK.

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