How MS Dhoni’s ‘Dad’s Army’ defied critics to reach IPL 2018 final
It was MS Dhoni who led a youth revolution 11 years ago, in the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa. India’s victory was the trigger for the launch of the Indian Premier League in late 2007, and the tournament has only strengthened the country’s recession-proof image when it comes to cricket.
But it was the same Dhoni who backed a bunch of 30-somethings at the player auction that led to Chennai Super Kings --- back after a two-year ban with everyone expecting young faces to regain the old poise --- being dubbed the ‘Dad’s Army’.
Bemused observers were unable to fathom why CSK would go for one seemingly has-been after another. After all, Dhoni, talisman of the yellow brigade, was on a downward curve with his image as a finisher having taken a beating in India’s blue.
However, CSK has left everyone stumped with their surge to the final, to be one step away from a third crown. The likes of Shane Watson, Harbhajan Singh, Dwayne Bravo, Imran Tahir besides Dhoni were all into their 30s.
Not just that, if Chennai upstage Sunrisers Hyderabad, they will become the oldest team to claim any of the world’s top T20 league titles.
However, things were hardly promising at the start. It appeared the CSK management, even with coach Stephen Fleming and Dhoni at the helm, had pinned their faith on old legs in a format whose demand for explosive power and innovative skills are soaring by the day.
All-rounder Kedar Jadhav’s early injury, initial fielding lapses, and the eviction from their home turf due to the Cauvery agitation all pointed out that a campaign almost entirely of away matches would leave them drained.
So, what triggered the new revolution for Dhoni and Co? The biggest impact was the former India skipper regaining his lethal finishing touch. His keenness to succeed for CSK, the switch to lighter bats as reported in this paper, his fitness and composure under pressure proved vital.
Dhoni’s strike rate of 150.66 exemplifies that resurgence. It is his third best in 11 IPL seasons --- it was 158.70 in 2011 when CSK won and 162.89 in 2013 – while his tally of 455 so far is only behind his 461 five years ago. Dhoni hit only three fifties, which only underscores the value of those runs.
Imran Tahir, 39, was at one end of the age spectrum, but the others in the 35-plus gang --- Watson, Harbhajan and Bravo (he is still the best death-over, slow-ball specialist in the league) --- have looked fresh. Retired from the international game and infrequent playing has only kept them fresh for IPL duty.
Living in the now
Dhoni announced before the tournament that the side picked in the big auction was to win the title this season. Plans for the future can wait.
CSK’s specialists are showing precision in delivering as a team, trumping young athletes who produce stunning catches and win the longest six contest. The clarity meant not retaining R Ashwin, but acquiring Ambati Rayudu, 32, who has been so consistent as opener (15 matches, 586 runs, 1x100, 3x50) to be CSK’s highest run-getter. Watson, 36, has missed only one match (14 matches, 438 runs, 1x100, 2x50, 6 wickets) and comparing his numbers with fellow all-rounder Bravo (15 matches, 141 runs, 13 wickets) shows how well they have complemented each other to add value to the team.
It could be another ageing player who turns the tables once again on Sunrisers. Faf du Plessis, who didn’t play initially as a broken finger healed and who will turn 34 in July, carried the innings in the win over SRH late in the league stage.