The Chennai Super Kings - Delhi Capitals clash delivered the entertainment it promised, but not in the way any of us expected. For 39.4 overs, neither side looked like they wanted to win the game.
It was one of those ‘so bad that it was actually good’ matches where, more than the actual contest between two teams, it was moments of chaos, controversy and comic relief that fulfilled you, the fan. The absurd ‘non no-ball’ call in the final over almost served as the icing on the cake.
All said and done, though, today’s clash in Dubai will be a match that both CSK and DC will look back on. There were not too many positives to take away from the game for either side, on the batting front at least, but there were warnings. And as the business end of the tournament gets closer and closer, it will be imperative for sides to learn from their mistakes and be aware of their own shortcomings and areas of potential weakness.
CSK no longer need MS Dhoni the batsman - he is inhibiting their potential
As unfortunate as it may seem, the harsh truth is that MS Dhoni’s innings proved to be the difference between the two sides - and not in a good way.
Dhoni managed to score just 18 off the 27 balls he faced, and failed to hit a single boundary. He found no rhythm, couldn’t time the ball at all, was not able to rotate strike effectively and did not accelerate either. For 27 balls, it felt like he was in the midst of a scrappy net session.
But the problem for CSK is not that Dhoni is no longer the batsman he once was. It is that the management seem hell-bent on utilizing his batting when there’s absolutely no need.
There is no question that Dhoni is well past his best days as a batsman, and his knock today was evidence of the same. But such is the quality and depth in this CSK batting line-up that they can afford to use Dhoni as a specialist wicket-keeper and captain; they have the luxury of carrying Dhoni the batsman.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that they bat him at No.10 or No.11. But the least they can do is bat him below Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo (or Sam Curran), both of whom are in sensational striking form.
Jadeja is currently in the midst of his best ever IPL season as a batsman, averaging 70.66 and striking at 152.51. Only a game ago he struck 32* off 15 balls, blasting from the get-go without taking balls to get his eye in. And yet two balls was all he got to face today owing to Dhoni batting nearly one-fourth of the innings. Perhaps if Jadeja had batted 15-20 balls more, CSK might have got to the 150-run mark that Dhoni said was par.
Bravo, meanwhile, has only batted twice in IPL 2021, but has been striking at 268.75, hitting a six every four balls. Against both RR and MI, he played match-winning cameos.
Certainly after today, it would be ludicrous to assume that Dhoni, in the form he finds himself in, is qualified to bat ahead of the aforementioned two.
Make no mistake, Dhoni is still valuable to the side both as a wicket-keeper and a captain. And he showed that in the second innings by nailing his tactics and almost turning a certain defeat into a victory.
But the Dhoni the batsman is inhibiting this Super Kings side and is, in a way, nullifying the effect of Dhoni the keeper and captain.
Harsh as it may sound, if CSK are to win IPL 2021, they might have to hope that Dhoni never bats again.
DC’s fragile, out-of-form batting unit a cause for concern despite back-to-back wins
The good news for the Capitals is that they have all but sealed a place in the top two. Unless something horribly goes wrong, they will have two cracks at reaching the final, just like last year.
The bad news is that, like last year, their batting seems all over the place at a time they needed every single individual firing. In many ways they have been lucky that in each of the last two matches, their batters have had to chase sub-140 totals. Even then, they’ve almost made a meal out of both the chases.
The problem starts from the very top.
In the first half, so much of their success was down to the opening stand between Prithvi Shaw and Shikhar Dhawan. The duo put together 512 runs across 8 innings and not just got the side off to a solid start, but a quick one too.
Since restart, however, this number has dropped to 17.3. Dhawan has still been posting middling scores at a moderate strike rate, but Shaw has nearly gone back to his 2020 self, registering scores of 18, 6, 10 and 11 so far in the UAE leg. Given he is a ‘confidence player’, the possibility of this thin run extending cannot be ruled out.
Iyer and Pant, in comparison, have been better, but they have struggled to bat with fluency. In this UAE leg, they have batted with a combined SR of 114. It has boded well for the side in small chases but it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to up their game on better batting tracks.
You can make the argument that Pant, at least, can do so at will but that has not been the case for him this season. He’s struggled when he’s tried to accelerate, particularly at the death. So far in IPL 2021, Pant has struck at a SR of 140 in overs 16-20. Among batters who have faced at least 60 balls in this phase, no one has struck at a lower SR. He also has the worst balls-per-boundary ratio in the phase.
That Pant perished cheaply versus both CSK and MI trying to be consciously aggressive, should concern Ponting.
Then there’s the situation with the sixth batter. Delhi, as things stand, do not seem to have an idea of who among Smith, Ripal Patel and Lalit Yadav is Stoinis’ replacement. It is one thing to chop and change based on conditions, but thus far DC’s changes have been ‘hail mary’ moves. And nothing has worked.
Shimron Hetmyer’s form, however, is a shining light, and the onus is now on the management to utilize his services effectively. The southpaw bailed them out against both RR and CSK but they are doing no favours - to both the player and themselves - by changing his batting order every single game.
So far in the UAE leg, the bowlers have carried Delhi. But there is only so much the bowlers will be able to do. DC are currently table-toppers, yes, but if the batters do not step up, then their tale will be a similar one to that of IPL 2020.