Mahendra Singh Dhoni returned as captain for CSK’s game against SRH and took us on a nostalgia trip with his insights about the game, his future, leadership and that enigmatic smile after the win.

Before the game had even started the talk was about the return of MSD’s Midas touch or his tactical innovations mid-game. But the game was fairly one-sided with Gaikwad and Conway tearing into SRH bowlers and putting up an unbeaten 180+ runs partnership at the top. It was fairly comfortable and here’s what we learnt from MSD’s first game in charge this season.

Yellow jersey
You’ll definitely see me in the yellow jersey, whether it is this one, or some other one, you never know, Dhoni said shedding light on his future with the franchise.

Without captaincy, a 41-year-old wicketkeeper lower order batter without any match practice is a burden even with the kind of tactical acumen MS brings. As he mentioned earlier, MS intends to finish his playing career in Chennai in front of a sea of yellow, the fans who stood by him all throughout his career.
Dhoni’s comments about the ‘yellow jersey’ certainly put an end to speculation of Dhoni stepping away anytime soon. And this hopefully helps captain-elect Jadeja time to carry forward both his game and his leadership skills.

MSD was particularly animated and had a lot to say in CSK huddle as the team made their way to defend 202 runs. The change of bowling and the angle of deliveries in particular were different compared to that of Jadeja’s short tenure. MS deployed pacey left arm of Mukhesh Choudhary from one end and shuffled between debutant Simarjeet Singh and the left-arm spin of Santner. Mystery spinner Theekshana too got a chance and he restricted SRH openers who had got off to an explosive start. The result – pressure mounted and SRH gifted away two wickets in the next over.

As captain, Dhoni is the master of using spin to build scoreboard pressure, especially through middle overs. Between 7-12 overs, SRH batters lost their way and when Jadeja was brought on, Dhoni was twice the captain, adjusting fielders to cover all gaps. The move paid off and runs saved in the middle won them the game at the end even with dew around. It had Dhoni’s blueprint written all over it.

But it was during the post-match presentation that Dhoni opened up about what captaincy means in a T20 game and how transition within CSK happened.

What did CSK do in MSD’s return as captain? They went back to the old tried and tested template that has served them well for so many years.

He said, “Between me and Jadeja, he knew last season itself that he will be given a chance to captain this year. He knew and got enough time to prepare. What is important is you want him to lead the side and I wanted that transition to happen. In the first two games, there was information going in towards Jaddu. After that I left it to him to decide which angle to bowl and all that. At the end of the season, you don’t want him to feel as if the captaincy was done by someone else and I’m just going for the toss. So it was a gradual transition. Spoon-feeding doesn’t really help the captain. On the field you have to take those crucial decisions and you have to take responsibility for those decisions.”

Return of the template
What did CSK do in MSD’s return as captain? They went back to the old tried and tested template that has served them well for so many years. Devon Conway was back as the overseas opener and Pretorius played the role of Albie Morkel and Bravo, handy with the bat, handy in death overs. The return of Conway and Gaikwad’s form though blew the game away. The partnership between the duo was the highest partnership for CSK in the IPL!

The second highest was 181 between Watson and Faf du Plessis in 2020 and 4th highest was 159 between Hussey and Murali Vijay in 2011.

With Conway in, Rayudu will play the role Badri played during the 2010-11 seasons and Uthappa can become the middle over enforcer in the absence of Moeen Ali due to injury. Jadeja, Dhoni and Pretorious add more depth and firepower to a lineup that looks the most stable it has looked this season.

Speaking of bowling, Theekshana, Jadeja and Santner gave more variability and Simarjeet can chip in with a few good ones as he tests the IPL waters.

Overall, Dhoni the captain did not do anything new, nor did he force anything.  He did all the simple things best.

He put the captaincy noise to bed. He backed his bowlers, played around with his spinner and even promoted himself up the order — at no.3 to show that he is here to stay for at least a couple of seasons more.

In the end, Dhoni was himself and his tactics were similar to past seasons. Perhaps that’s what CSK required all season.

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