They say it is not possible to end world hunger. But over the course of the past few months, Chennai Super Kings and MS Dhoni have tried their best to show that they could do so: indeed, close to a billion people have been fed humble pie. About 500 million of them consumed the dish today alone. Surely, then, it is not out of the realm of possibility that CSK and Dhoni might have it in them to prepare and serve an entrée that is not figurative.
“No way” is what a vast majority of those who watched the Qualifier would have yelled out loud when Dhoni thumped Avesh Khan into the mid-wicket stand on his very second ball. “This six is an aberration, right?” is what the very same folks would either have whispered to themselves or said to the person whom they were watching the match with.
Because, let’s be honest, even in a fantasy world, the thought of a 40-year-old MS Dhoni helping CSK chase down 19 off 9 balls against the best bowling side in the competition would have been ludicrous; a script too good to be true. Particularly after what he did the last two times he walked out to bat.
Dhoni, in the final two group matches, had combinedly scored 30 off 42 balls, striking a mere two boundaries. It is always rude to label cricketers as ‘finished’, but a few days ago, the term ‘finished’ seemed to be a generous description of Dhoni the batter.
In particular, so bad was his knock against Delhi that “if CSK are to win IPL 2021, they might have to hope that Dhoni never bats again” is what we wrote at the end of the game, summarizing his innings.
Yet here he was, batting as if the year was 2019, going about his business oh-so-casually as if the last 30 months didn’t exist at all.
A bad day to be a Delhi Capitals fan, sure, but how could you not jump off your seat the moment Dhoni rolled his wrists and dispatched the fourth ball of the 20th over to the boundary to take CSK over the line? You don’t get such hard-to-believe, feel-good moments even in reality television anymore. Never would so many people have been delighted over having been proven totally and completely wrong.
We can marvel at that pull-shot off Avesh Khan or the lofted back-foot punch in the final over all we want, but what was truly extraordinary was the sheer gut and courage of Dhoni to take the risk of promoting himself over Jadeja, especially on the back of what’d happened in the previous two matches.
Even in hindsight, it was probably an unjustifiable, absurd call. There’s no two ways about it.
All through the tournament Jadeja had been striking the ball sweetly and had shown that he was capable of going big from the get go. Dhoni not only held such an in-form batsman back, but promoted a player (himself) who last timed the ball well two seasons ago. There would, at the very least, have been a social media riot had the move not come off.
Yet, Dhoni backed himself and conquered the moment. Was it a smart move? Probably not. But it was a move that encapsulated his confidence and self-belief, even at this age, in this form. For years we’ve heard about the trust Dhoni has in his teammates; today we saw how much he trusts himself.
Enough of the 40-year-old. What about the 35-year-old whose invaluable contribution has rather unfortunately been overshadowed?
Robin Uthappa, mind you, was a very unpopular trade. His stocks had plummeted after three disastrous seasons and people genuinely thought that CSK had signed him for the memes (you know, a mid-thirty guy, veteran tax etc). Even a stellar 2020/21 domestic season with Kerala did little to convince many that Uthappa was a good addition.
And he turned back the clock and delivered a performance reminiscent of his KKR days.
At 3/1 after 0.4 overs chasing 173, the Robin Uthappa of 2014 would have struck a counter-punching fifty that would have taken KKR over the line. In fact, he did something similar in the playoff seven years ago against Punjab.
As it turned out, though, the Uthappa of 2021 was still good enough to deliver such a clutch performance.
He brought so much assurance with him the moment he walked to the crease, and bossed the chase until he unfortunately ran out of gas. The rockets of Nortje looked like harmless medium pace when Uthappa was batting, and Avesh Khan was being belted around as if the year was still 2020. He even tag-teamed with Ruturaj Gaikwad to make Ravi Ashwin super-grumpy.
Today Uthappa blasted his first IPL fifty in over two years, and through this one knock he not just vindicated the CSK management, but also won over the fans.
Could it get more CSK than them ending up winning a Qualifier match through two men whose combined age adds up to 75? That too on a day in which they were not their usual self on the field? You literally cannot make it up.
Delhi still probably do not know what hit them. Ponting, as we speak, is probably fuming in the dressing room over the missed opportunity. There is already a war on social media thanks to Rishabh Pant’s decision to bowl Tom Curran over Kagiso Rabada in the final over. Fingers have also already been pointed at the likes of Ashwin and Avesh.
But it will be vitally important for them to recuperate and focus on the second Qualifier.
Because, the truth is, Delhi simply got CSK’d. It is as simple as that. They batted well, fielded extremely well and bowled with a fair amount of discipline. They did all that was in their hands.
Unfortunately for them, CSK did CSK things. And when CSK do CSK things, there are very few sides in the world that can stop them.
That is why they have qualified for the playoffs in all but one season. That is why they have reached more finals than any other side in the competition and that is why they ended up finishing second this season with a squad that was believed to have been ‘finished’.
Shane Watson, ahead of today’s game in Star Sports’ ‘Dugout’, described CSK’s playoff run as ‘The Last Dance’.
As much as you would want to believe his words, though, after today, it is hard to completely shut down the possibility of this very same lot, under the same captain, pulling off similar miracles next season.
Because it feels like this is CSK and MS Dhoni’s world and we’re all living in it.