MS Dhoni batting at No. 7 against Rajasthan Royals was an "absolute miscalculation" according to former India batsman and two-time IPL-winning captain Gautam Gambhir. In a sharp criticism of the Chennai Super Kings captain on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time Out, Gambhir said Dhoni ought to have led from the front, and that no other captain whose primary skill was with the bat would have got away with batting as low in a chase of 217.
Dhoni came in during the 14th over of the Super Kings' chase, with his team needing 103 off 38 balls and a struggling Faf du Plessis on 17 off 18 balls at the other end.
"I was a bit surprised to be honest," Gambhir said. "MS Dhoni batting at No. 7? And sending [Ruturaj] Gaikwad before him, Sam Curran before him. Makes no sense to me. In fact you should be leading from the front. And this is not what you call leading from the front. Batting at No. 7 when you're chasing what... 213 ? The game was over. Faf was probably the lone warrior.
"Yes, you can talk about MS Dhoni's last over [when he hit three sixes], but it was of no use to be honest. It was just all personal runs."
"There is nothing wrong if you end up getting out early, at least start leading from the front, trying to inspire the team as well." Gautam Gambhir on MS Dhoni
Dhoni's first apparent attempt at hitting a six came in the last over of Super Kings' innings, which had begun with them needing 38 to win. Dhoni went on to his three sixes in that over, but, till then, he seemed content largely patting it around. Both Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming said he was just looking to ease into the tournament, given that his last competitive game before this IPL was in the World Cup semi-final last year.
"See, if someone else would have done this, some other [batsman] captain had batted No. 7, he would have got a lot of flak. It is MS Dhoni - probably why people don't talk about it," Gambhir said. "When you don't have Suresh Raina, you're making people believe that Sam Curran is better than you. You're making people believe that Ruturaj Gaikwad, Curran, Kedar Jadhav, Faf du Plessis, M Vijay, all these guys, are better than you."
In response to what the Super Kings had expected when they sent Curran, Gaikwad, and Jadhav ahead of Dhoni, Fleming said, simply, "good things".
"MS is a specialist at the end of the innings, always has been," Fleming said. "Curran was there to try and hit us and keep us in the game at that point when we were falling behind. He's got good hitting power like we saw. Ruturaj... it was his first game and we wanted to get him into the game, into the order. We wanted to be aggressive, we've got a long batting order and we're just trying to use our resources smartly."
In Gambhir's opinion, that approach was not a prudent one, and left him questioning if there was solid "intent to win the game". "There is nothing wrong if you end up getting out early, at least start leading from the front, trying to inspire the team as well," Gambhir said. "What you did in the last over, probably if you'd done that coming in at No. 4 or 5, alongside Faf, you could have made a game out of it. But probably there was no such intent to make a game out of it.
"I thought that after the [first] six overs, they had literally given up on the game. And probably MS was trying to get back into that match rhythm of batting till the end and get some runs under his belt so he can actually play these kind of innings in the coming games.
"You've got to be in the present, try and win each game possible. I thought there was no intent to win the game and they were never there in the chase. You can talk about Faf's innings, but Faf initially was struggling big time. So I thought it was absolute miscalculation, probably not the right captaincy as well. This is not how you ask someone like MS to lead the side."