MS Dhoni has hit 554 runs in 227 balls in the 20th over of an IPL match. That's 13% of all the runs he's ever made in this tournament. How does he do it?
"Watch the ball, hit the ball," the CSK captain told Star Sports after putting in a sensational performance to beat Delhi Capitals in their last home game of the 2019 season. "Also by that time, you've spent enough time to know what are the variations that are really working on that wicket, how is it coming onto the batsmen, whether you can play a few shots that are maybe not your stronger points. I think by 20th over you're almost ready and you swing at everything."
Dhoni's been especially aggressive this season, hitting 70 runs off 21 final-over deliveries. That translates to a strike-rate of 333. So it was fairly straightforward that he would call Ambati Rayudu through for a sneaky single after the new batsman was beaten outside the off stump by Trent Boult.
Once he was back on strike, Dhoni sent the last two balls of innings for sixes and finished with 44 off 22. At the start of the 19th over, he was 13 off 12
"It's easier for somebody to play 10-15 deliveries than somebody who has just come in to bat. It was just holding on a bit. It was not a wicket where it was coming on nicely and I felt it was slightly difficult for Rayudu to come and hit and [wicketkeeper] Rishabh [Pant] helped, he didn't take the gloves off [Dhoni does that a lot to prevent giving away such runs when he's behind the wicket] and that gave me an extra few seconds to finish my run."
In addition to his usual big-hitting exploits, Dhoni showcased immense skill in the field, stumping Chris Morris and Shreyas Iyer even though their back feet had barely risen from the ground.
He managed to catch them out largely thanks to his unique technique of waiting for the ball with his hands right on top of the stumps. Other wicketkeepers have a little give - cushioning the ball by swinging the hands back before thrusting them forward to clip the bails - but Dhoni doesn't. He collects the ball and clips the bails. No back swing.
"It's something that has come from tennis-ball cricket which I've played a lot," Dhoni said. "But you need to do the basics right first and then graduate to the next level. I feel if you want to keep like that, then this is what you practice. You may commit a lot of errors so what's important is you stick to the basics and then get to the advanced course. If you can reduce the time where you can clip the bails off, it always helps."
After the game, Dhoni went around the ground, hitting tennis balls into the crowd and thanking them for their support. But just before that, he was asked whether he liked being called thala.
"I've always said it's very special to get that kind of a nickname. It's a big nickname that has been given to me. It feels truly special. I never realised it was part of the first song that was made on CSK, that thala was part of it. And after hearing it, I realised [how important it is]. And the way I got accepted, the whole of Tamil Nadu, down south, it's always thala that they yell [not my name] and the moment I hear it, I know he's a fan of CSK and that he definitely comes from down south and he's slightly different. It feels special. At the same time, they've been very nice not only to me but to the whole team. So a big thanks to them."