Happy Birthday MS Dhoni: Five times CSK captain set the standard for captaincy in the IPL
On Dhoni's 39th birthday, we look at five instances from IPL where he proved to be the greatest mastermind of the shortest format of the game.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is arguably the greatest limited overs captain the Indian cricket team has ever had. His calculated moves standing behind the stumps became a key factor as India transitioned from a good side under Sourav Ganguly to best in the world. Dhoni’s captaincy came to limelight in the 2007 T20 World Cup where he led his young Indian side to a tournament victory. In a career spanning more than a decade as a captain, Dhoni has went on to change how the sport is played with his innovative captaincy.
The Jharkhand-born wicketkeeper has been an equally smart captain in the domestic circuit. He has been the pillar around Chennai Super King’s success in the past IPL seasons and will once again be a key factor when the team hits the ground running in 2020. CSK are one of the most successful franchises in the Indian Premier League – three IPL and two Champions League T20 titles – and Dhoni has played a large role in the success earning him the nickname ‘Thala’ in the Chennai.
On his 39th birthday, we look at five instances where Dhoni's cricketing brains proved decisive for his IPL teams.
Forming the Chennai core
All successful teams have a backbone of really strong players who understand each other. Under Dhoni’s leadership the Chennai franchise quickly built a core of talented cricketers glued by a desire to win. Ravichandran Ashwin and Suresh Raina went on to be mainstays for the teams in years to come while the likes of Dwayne Bravo and Murali Vijay added balance to the squad.
Dhoni, fresh from the 2007 World Cup victory, was a captain that inspired his team to perform well in the match. His understanding of the shortest form of the sport, (such as when to attack and how to use spin as an attacking weapon) helped the team set the tone for the rest of the IPL.
Handling the change in 2011
The introduction of two teams in 2011 – Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Pune Warriors – meant there was squad overhauls in most franchises. But Dhoni, in great form after winning the 2011 ODI World Cup, was instrumental in ensuring the Super Kings continued their domination of the IPL.
The defending champions didn’t put a foot wrong in the tournament but he will perhaps best be remembered for utilizing Ashwin as an attacking option against Chris Gayle in the final. The RCB batsman was in the form of his life but Dhoni gave the new ball to start spin bowler who did the job of restricting the Gayle-storm.
The master chaser
Dhoni was not just about understanding and utilizing the players in his teams. He himself liked to lead from the front and do the difficult job in the team. The way he converted himself from a big-hitter to a master run-chaser is something worth writing books about. Dhoni understood the need for a finisher in CSK and team India and evolved his role to suit the teams’ needs.
His knock against Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2013 typified the new-look Dhoni. Chasing a small tally of 159, CSK lost all their main batsmen early leaving Dhoni to lead the charge on his own against a bowling lineup spearheaded by Dale Steyn. And MSD did just that, smashing 15 runs of 4 balls in the final over to see his side through. The best part of Dhoni’s IPL career has always been how he understood his own abilities.
Innovative field placements
What makes Dhoni one of the most successful captains in the IPL is how he could easily put himself in the shoes of the batsman or the bowler. This meant Dhoni could preempt a lot of situations on the cricket field and set fielders accordingly.
The biggest example of Dhoni’s vision was the 2010 IPL final against arch-rivals Mumbai Indians. Kieron Pollard was in his destructive best for the team in Blue and looked all set to take the game away from the Chennai side but Dhoni altered the field to place Mathew Hayden in an unconventional mid-off position. Pollard struck the ball straight to the Australian in the next ball and you could see all the CSK players running to Dhoni to appreciate his brilliance.
Unlocking Ambati Rayudu and unleashing Deepak Chahar
Perhaps what makes Dhoni the best is his ability to get the best out of his players. He has been doing that from season 1 but he showed how well he understands the game in 2018 when he promoted Ambati Rayudu to the opening position. In his previous stint at Mumbai Indians he was never seen as a batsman who could lead the innings for his side but Dhoni gave him the belief that turned Rayudu’s career around. Later in the tournament he was also deployed as a number 4 to combat the spinners.
Similarly, Deepak Chahar is another player who has massively benefited from Dhoni’s tutelage. The fast bowler has improved into a lethal limited overs specialist for the country and the club after joining the Chennai side under Dhoni. The 27-year-old starred for India in the recent limited over series against Bangladesh and was vocal about Dhoni’s role in his development.