Dhoni confounds his critics
Not sure about familiarity, but success breeds contempt. Throughout this tournament the critics seemed to be waiting for Chennai to stumble so they could have the chance to turn around and say, "Look I told you, these guys were plain lucky. Now they have been exposed". It's not so much an anti-team sentiment, but one against their captain MS Dhoni. Many admire his captaincy; some reckon he is pretty lucky.
Like most successful teams, Chennai did have their share of luck. They had just five days of preparation but the itinerary allowed them to ease into the groove with two facile wins against the two weaker teams in the competition.
In the third game Victoria almost choked but hung on to take the game to a super over where they thumped Chennai. The critics jumped in to savour that moment; Dhoni's luck ran out,' they said. He should have given Doug Bollinger that over, they said, calling it a "messy captaincy decision". Some even speculated that Bollinger had stormed off to the dressing room at the end of that over and that he was not happy with the skipper. The retelling of that story had a malicious glee to it.
Dhoni, though, offered a perfectly plausible reason for using Ashwin. "He is used to bowling in the Powerplays. He is an aggressive bowler, he has the variety and he is always ready to bowl whenever you throw the ball to him. He wants to perform; he has grown as a player over the last three IPLs."
Chennai's next game was against Warriors. There was more ammunition to the 'he is lucky' brigade. Warriors chose to play a game within a game; they needed 109 to qualify and didn't extend themselves too much to try to win the game. They seemed content chasing qualification. The critics said if Warriors had to win to qualify, they would have won the game and shoved Chennai out of the tournament. Maybe, and maybe not. We will never know.
Luck certainly came their way in the next game in the semi-final against Bangalore. The pre-game talk had revolved around how Dale Steyn would harass the Chennai batsmen with his pace and bounce. He didn't bowl a single delivery, stumbling off after suffering concussion on the field. It was a freak event. With Steyn's exit, Bangalore had run out of gunpowder. Game over.
That evening Dhoni said Steyn could have made things tricky for his batsmen but that's not his concern. A reporter said the semi-final was boring. Dhoni's repartee, "So you think we should have run ourselves out?!" It was said with a smile.
Tonight, he was a happy man. He said his plan was to keep the spinners for the middle overs so that they could apply the squeeze, as some of Chennai's seamers weren't quick enough to use the semi-new ball effectively. It worked perfectly.
Sanjay Manjrekar, the former India batsman, nailed the issue perfectly: "Ajit wadekar was also called a lucky captain but when he became India coach in 1993 I realised he had top leadership quality and you realised why he got the results that he did," Manjrekar says. "The same thing with Dhoni. He is a guy who does things that are supposed to be done and leaves the rest to fate. He doesn't try to control everything. That is his greatest strength. If you watch Tendulkar in comparison, he tries to control everything.
"Dhoni that way takes lot of pressure off himself and he is someone who makes his players feel very secure. He is not a guy that you see outwardly making brilliant moves but he is quietly he is always encouraging his bowlers. When a bowler is hit for a six and if he has bowled a good ball, you will quietly see Dhoni applauding the bowler. That's all the bowler needs; that his captain has approved that ball."
At the end of the final, Dhoni was asked for the nth time how he keeps his cool, he said, "There is a dressing room to show your emotions. As a captain, you are as good as your side. This is a very good bunch of people and as a captain you just want to channel all the energy into the same direction. The players put in great effort and frankly it feels very good to be the captain of Chennai Super Kings."
The win was extra-special too, as this will be the last time these particular players turn out for Chennai. "It was indeed a very emotional moment," Dhoni said. "It was the last game for many of us players as a team. However much you try, we can't retain all. These three years were great; we played good cricket. You develop a special bonding with each other. The dressing room atmosphere was great; not everybody could get a game but there was no ill feeling. Every one enjoyed each other's company. To end on a high feels really special."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo