CHENNAI: No other side relies heavily on home advantage as Chennai Super Kings. Despite all the shortcomings they have with their batting, they have somehow managed to hide a dinosaur-size hole. In a season where only MS Dhoni has crossed 400 runs — he reached the landmark in Qualifier 1 against Mumbai Indians on Tuesday — Chennai have been repeatedly bailed out only by their spinners.
While their struggles have been baffling, the failure of other teams — barring Mumbai Indians — to nullify them at MA Chidambaram Stadium is even more perplexing. While the likes of Royal Challengers Bangalore, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals were guilty of getting their combination wrong, Mumbai have stood out.
They are a side who take their homework seriously. Just ask Lasith Malinga. The death-over specialist he is, they had a feeling he was getting predictable at the end. As playoffs loomed, Malinga was told to explore the possibility of bowling around the wicket, an angle which isn’t familiar for most batsmen. He aborted the plan after Dhoni hit him for a couple of sixes. Where other teams have failed at Chepauk, Mumbai have used the conditions better than even the hosts in the two matches they have played here. That spin plays a role here isn’t rocket science, but few use them as well as Dhoni does. But with a more resourceful attack at his disposal, Rohit Sharma isn’t entirely different from Dhoni.
He believes in the bowler holding an edge over the batsman. When Dhoni walked in at the fall of Murali Vijay in the 13th over, one wondered if the same script would pan out. Their top-order didn’t turn up again and it was over to Dhoni. This is the phase where visiting captains have let the game drift from their hands.
But not Rohit. He saw Dhoni arrive and waste no time in hitting Jayant Yadav for a six. Krunal Pandya or Rahul might have seemed a better option at this stage. But Rohit went for Hardik Pandya, a bowler who has conceded only 20 runs off 25 balls bowled to Dhoni in all T20s. That was the 15th over with Chennai’s score reading 83/4. This is when Dhoni prepares for his assault. Instead, he was made to delay it.
Now the gamble. Bowling Rahul and Krunal would mean one of Malinga or Jasprit Bumrah won’t be able to bowl their quota of four overs. But why would a sane captain, who has two spinners capable of taking the ball away from right-handers, switch to pace? Krunal and Rahul bowled the 16th and 17th over respectively, giving away only eight runs. The scoreboard read 99/4. The pin-drop silence at Chepauk told a story.
Rohit then handed Bumrah the ball, which meant Dhoni would have to take a gigantic risk if Chennai were to get anywhere around 150. Except for the first ball, which was a badly executed off-cutter, Bumrah remained in his elements as only eight came off the over.
Then Malinga gave 15 away in the 19th, but Chennai still only had 122 on board. Bowling to Dhoni in a 20th over can be intimidating even for the best. Bumrah, seemed to be slipping when he had Dhoni dismissed off a no-ball off the first ball. But, barring that, Bumrah didn’t put a foot wrong as he gave away eight runs off the next six balls as the assault that Chennai and Dhoni were looking for never arrived.