Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been more in focus than his team Rising Pune Supergiant in the ongoing 2017 Indian Premier League. And that should be the case ahead of the clash against Gujarat Lions at the SCA Stadium on Friday too.
Nothing seems to be going right for the champion cricketer at the moment. While it all started with RPS owners replacing India’s greatest captain with Steven Smith for the 10th edition of the T20 tournament, the spotlight is on the Ranchi superstar’s poor run with the bat.
One hoped with the burden of captaincy off his shoulders, a vintage Dhoni would take IPL by storm. However, that hasn’t been the case so far.
Not the old finisher
With scores of 12 not out, 5 and 11 in his first three games, Dhoni, 35, seems nowhere close to his best. Although Dhoni has been active with field placements from behind the wicket, it’s his power-hitting that Smith would have banked on.
Smith, who is set to play on Friday after missing the last match against Delhi Daredevils due to bad stomach, is unfazed with Dhoni’s form. “No, it doesn’t bother me. (It’s) only three games, (so) no problems there. He’s a class player. He’ll be fine,” said Smith in his pre-match press conference.
In the first match against Mumbai Indians, the situation was tailor-made for Dhoni, with 13 runs required off the final over. The job was ultimately done by Smith, who hit two sixes to finish off the game, as Dhoni found it difficult to even connect.
In Pune’s last match against Delhi Daredevils, which Smith missed due to an upset stomach, Dhoni was expected to take on more batting responsibility. The opportunity was lost again.
Team environment key too
It isn’t Dhoni’s form alone that is a concern. It has also a lot to do with building the right environment to bring the best out of the players.
The build up to IPL 10 hasn’t been ideal for Dhoni. Controversy erupted when RPS owner Sanjiv Goenka declared that he was sacked as skipper of his team. After the emphatic win in the opener against Mumbai Indians, tweets by Goenka’s brother Harsh seemed to pit Dhoni against Smith, upsetting fans of the double World Cup-winning skipper.
Dhoni’s wife Sakshi posted a photograph sporting a Chennai Super Kings helmet and jersey and came out in support of her beleaguered husband with a strong response to Harsh Goenka’s tweets.
One major reason Chennai Super Kings under Dhoni enjoyed great IPL success, before it was suspended for two years, was because the skipper was a master finisher.
It is often said write off a champion at your peril. With Dhoni’s finishing abilities on the wane, his task has become more challenging than ever at No 5. Pune could consider promoting Dhoni ahead of England all-rounder Ben Stokes, who can still finish matches by batting at No 5.
The dip in form in IPL 10 seems sudden. Before the league, Dhoni scored 330 runs in eight matches for Jharkhand in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy. In the three-match ODI series India last played against England, Dhoni smashed 134 in the second match at Cuttack. In the last T20 tie against England at Bangalore, he slammed 56 as India won the series 2-1.
Though Dhoni’s poor run should not have a bearing on his Champions Trophy spot, he is sure to feel the pressure. And his form would be crucial to India’s chances of defending the title.