Having included 11 players over the age of 30, Chennai Super Kings were not considered likely title contenders with a squad that had an average age of 33 for the Indian Premier League2018. Fast forward to Sunday (May 27), MS Dhoni’s so-called ‘Dad’s Army’ are just one step away from claiming the title for the third time.
While the likes of Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson, Suresh Raina, and Dhoni have shouldered most of the burden, the senior pros have found ample support from the young guns as well. Both Deepak Chahar and Lungi Ngidi have been brilliant with the ball, while the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Sam Billings, and Faf du Plessis have emerged from the den to win Chennai a game from the dead.
Talking ahead of the summit clash against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Mumbai, Dhoni discarded the theory that experience couldn’t be replaced. “Experience really counts but it’s not that it always matters,” he said. “It is not something that can’t be replaced. Excess of everything is bad… the good thing is we have managed with them very well.
“I think every season of IPL produced very good domestic players, this time you have seen some very good fast bowlers who have come and done well consistently.”
Given the squad they had, fitness was always going to be a concern for Chennai. However, Dhoni feels his side have managed to hold together well, even after Mitchell Santner and Kedar Jadhav were ruled out of the tournament – Santner before it began and Jadhav after the first game. “The challenge this year was slightly different to what we faced in the past seven-eight years,” pointed out Dhoni.
“The age-group of the boys was definitely a concern as we had to keep them fit because of the frequency of the games. You have to manoeuvre your resources and you have to look at the bigger picture to make sure that when we come to the business end of the tournament your best XI is available. This year we have been able to do that, though we did have some injury concerns. It’s good to have our players available for selection.”
Returning to the competition after spending two years out due to a ban, Chennai only played one game at their home ground of Chepauk before their home games were shifted to Pune. “The emotional aspect was more at the start of the tournament,” said Dhoni. “Once the tournament starts you have to be more professional. I was saddened that we couldn’t play our home matches in Chennai but I was still happy that we played at least one match. Our fans waited a very long time for this moment.”
Talking about different individuals winning games single-handedly, Dhoni said: “In this format, it is important for individuals to come and take their match on their own. Yes, we want to contribute as a team but it is always good when an individual takes the game away from the opposition as it makes the job of the others easy. If you start well in the tournament, it gives batters and bowlers enough time to strengthen the areas that they need to work on as T20 is slightly different, the situation actually governs how you are playing at that point of time.”
When asked why Harbhajan Singh didn’t bowl a single over against Hyderabad in Qualifier 1, Dhoni joked, “You know I have a lot of cars and bikes in my house. I don’t ride all at a time.
“There are times especially when you have six to seven bowlers in the side, you want to go according to the condition, who is batting and what is needed at that point. I have always said in the past when we had Pawan Negi and Ravindra Jadeja, I always gave them different slots in bowling. It’s unfair that the player gets criticised for what the batsman is doing. I see the condition and what is best for the team, and then decide who to bowl, who has the best chance against that batsman. Those are the reasons I always keep in mind. It is always tough. In the last game, I didn’t feel it was necessary to bowl him, and I didn’t bowl him.”
Chennai’s biggest threat in the final will be the in-form Rashid Khan, who single-handedly won Hyderabad the second Qualifier against Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday. Dhoni explained the theory behind why legspinners have been so successful in the T20 format.
“The legspinners who have done very well have been the ones who had good googlies,” he pointed out. “As a bowler, you are supposed to bowl 24 deliveries. If a fresh batsman comes in he likes to take time to really see the variation. The thing with legspinners is, you never know how their googly will turn. Sometimes it even looks like a googly but it is a top-spinner. Also when you miss a googly as a right-hand batsman you are getting out, whether is lbw or getting bowled.”