Twilight zone: MS Dhoni is looking a tad weary in the IPL, losing his finishing mojo. Is it time to rest?

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October 25, 2020 5:00 AM

Before going into that, we should look into why the CSK captain hasn’t been performing well as a batsman in this IPL. P

In 190 IPL matches between 2008 and 2019, Dhoni had hit 209 sixes, which means 1.1 sixes per game on an average.In 190 IPL matches between 2008 and 2019, Dhoni had hit 209 sixes, which means 1.1 sixes per game on an average.

“… if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome,” that was Bertrand Russell in ‘How to Grow Old’.

‘A fulfilling life’ was the context of the great philosopher’s essay. In MS Dhoni’s case, whose entire adult life till date has centred around cricket, the game offers the context. Dhoni is 39 years old, retired from international cricket and he is looking a tad weary, as a batsman, in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL).

In 11 matches so far, he has scored 180 runs at a strike-rate of 122.44. This is way below his T20 career strike-rate of 135.54. In 190 IPL matches between 2008 and 2019, Dhoni had hit 209 sixes, which means 1.1 sixes per game on an average. Circa 2018 was his brightest season, six-hitting wise – 30 maximums in 16 games. Last year, he had hit 23 sixes in 15 matches. His six-hitting average this term has dropped 0.63 per game — seven sixes in 11 matches. It ought to be said that an iffy CSK top order has offered very little cushion, but arguably the greatest finisher in the history of white-ball cricket, Dhoni appears to be losing his finishing mojo.

Is it time to rest? The question has to be asked. Dhoni has always called time on his own terms. In December 2014, he hung up his Test boots in the middle of a marquee series in Australia. A little over two years later, he abruptly quit limited-overs captaincy. Finally, on August 15 this year, when he retired from limited-overs internationals, the soundtrack he chose, along with a slideshow of images from his career, was Mukesh’s main pal do pal ka shayar hoon from the film Kabhie Kabhie. It had a philosophical touch. Never did he allow any selection committee to drop him.

The IPL franchise, Chennai Super Kings (CSK), is his sanctum sanctorum. Here he is in complete command with regards to his future as a cricketer. Nobody will ever nudge him into retirement. Ahead of this IPL, when this correspondent had asked CSK boss N Srinivasan about how long he would like to see Dhoni continuing, his reply was: “As long as he wants to”. An underwhelming IPL will not change that.

Shall Dhoni stick around or call it quits? Before going into that, we should look into why the CSK captain hasn’t been performing well as a batsman in this IPL. Pakistan legend Javed Miandad played six World Cups. The 1996 edition was his last and the most unrewarding. In five matches, Miandad had scored 54 runs at an average of 27. Four years ago in 1992, he was the mainstay of Pakistan batting in a title-winning campaign. In 1996, when Miandad was 39 years old, he seriously struggled to force the pace. Dhoni is apparently facing the same problem.

His mistimed shot against Rajasthan Royals seamer Kartik Tyagi during the return-leg fixture was a case in point. Tyagi bowled a full-toss to Dhoni. The latter already had played 25 balls and was well set. He attempted a slog but mistimed it and the ball limply went to long-on. Dhoni in his pomp would have sent it 20 rows back over long-on. Dhoni came into this IPL completely undercooked. The World Cup semifinal against New Zealand at Old Trafford on July 10, 2019 was his last competitive fixture.

And Miandad believes that lack of game time has affected his match fitness. “I have seen Dhoni’s batting in this IPL. To me, the problem areas are his timing and reflexes. If a player is not totally match-fit, his timing and reflexes get slower,” Miandad told The Indian Express.

Dhoni’s slide as a batsman has coincided with his team’s poor form. In sport, things usually happen in cycles. CSK have been one of the most successful teams in the IPL, winning the title thrice and reaching Playoffs/knockouts seven more times.

But an ageing team, with so many players on the wrong side of 30, looks to be past its sell-by date.

Of course CSK were unlucky to lose Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh for different reasons before the start of the tournament. Raina was CSK’s most successful batsman and the team naturally failed to replace the irreplaceable.

Then again, CSK must overhaul and after this IPL they are expected to do that.

Another IPL starts in five-six months’ time and Dhoni will have to take a call on his future — whether he will be the lead act of the overhaul as a mentor or a player and captain.

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