Kolkata v Chennai, IPL 2012, final, Chennai May 26, 2012

How Dhoni and Gambhir have shaped their sides

Gautam Gambhir, recently deposed as India vice-captain, took the chance to show he can lead a side, while MS Dhoni has stuck to the formula that has worked so well in the IPL for him


Their leadership has been an extension of their personalities. Dhoni has remained his usual unflappable self despite the ups and downs of Super Kings' performances this season. Whether it was a victory gained after a last-ball six or a heavy defeat, Dhoni didn't jump for joy or look crestfallen.

Sample Dhoni quote before final: "We, at CSK, put a lot of emphasis on the players going and enjoying the game, and expressing themselves. I don't believe in instructing players on how they need to play, because every player has a unique style."

Gambhir, though, has been the intense and combative person that has earned him several brushes with the authorities during his international career. After Knight Riders failed to chase down 135 against Kings XI Punjab and they slid to their third defeat in five games, Gambhir could barely control his temper at the press conference, strongly criticising the bumbling middle-order and asking them to take more responsibility. There was also a tiff with Mahela Jayawardene over a disputed catch, the sort of incident Dhoni is unlikely to be involved in.

Sample Gambhir quote before final: "When you go out on the field, you don't go out to make friends. You go out to get results for your teams. And for that if I have to be aggressive on the field [so be it]. That's what I play cricket for; I play to win the game and not just to compete."


Their batting form almost perfectly reflects that of their teams. Dhoni rarely sparkled in the league phase but was at his irrepressible best once the playoffs began, mirroring the Super Kings' performance. While there were glimpses of his destructive abilities, such as in the home game against Pune Warriors, there were also some uncharacteristically sluggish innings. In the playoffs though, Dhoni has played some of the shots of the tournament, including the longest hit of the season and two of his trademark helicopter sixes as Super Kings brushed aside the opposition.

Gambhir, on the other hand, has been one of the most consistent batsmen this tournament - the second highest run-scorer in IPL 2012, only twice in his last 11 innings has he been dismissed for less than 25 - matching Knight Riders' steady position near the top of the table. He has been the bedrock of Knight Riders' batting, helping offset middling seasons from four of their other main batsmen - Brendon McCullum, Jacques Kallis, Manoj Tiwary and Yusuf Pathan.

Team changes

Dhoni might have adopted the much-discussed rotation policy for the experienced India openers during the CB series in Australia earlier this year, but when it comes to the IPL, he hasn't shuffled the XI much. His biggest team composition calls have been regarding his openers. M Vijay was cast aside after a faltering start to the season, during which time South Africa's Faf du Plessis briefly held the orange cap. As the tournament progressed though, and Michael Hussey arrived from the West Indies, Dhoni reverted to Super Kings' tried-and-trusted opening pair of Hussey and Vijay, benching du Plessis. The move paid off with Hussey playing a vital innings against Mumbai Indians, and Vijay overpowering Delhi Daredvils two days later to send Super Kings to their third straight final. The only other major area of experimentation was with a fast bowlers' slot, and that too was settled after Ben Hilfenhaus' successive Man-of-the-Match performances.

Unlike Super Kings' history of success, Knight Riders have had a more rough time over the five seasons. After three years of failing to making the playoffs, Knight Riders bet big on Gambhir in 2011, making him the highest earner in the mega-auction. He delivered too, getting the team into the Champions League T20, and this year has seen unprecedented success.

Like Dhoni, Gambhir has also believed in backing a core group of players - seven members have played at least 14 out of 16 matches this season. His persistent backing of Yusuf, despite a hugely underwhelming league phase, worked as Yusuf put in a game-changing cameo in the playoff against Daredevils.

Still, with several new players acquired, there has been plenty more fiddling around with the XI than Chennai, whose major changes were forced due to problems with player availability. Knight Riders experimented with Manvinder Bisla as a wicketkeeper and top-order batsman, but as the season progressed zeroed in on three of the overseas slots - two of their expensive signings this year, mystery spinner Sunil Narine and wicketkeeper-batsman Brendon McCullum, joined Jacques Kallis in the first XI. The identity of the fourth took even longer, before Shakib Al Hasan's convincing performances clinched him an extended run in the side and the XI began to look more settled.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo