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MS Dhoni says lack of game time the reason why he batted at No. 7 for Chennai Super Kings

Dhoni felt that the start the Super Kings got wasn't good enough in a tall chase, and also said the team needed to do a better job at not bowling no-balls

Saurabh Somani
Before IPL 2020, MS Dhoni had batted at No. 7 - the lowest he's ever batted in the tournament - only six times in 12 years. In the two matches the Chennai Super Kings have played this year though, Dhoni has come out at No. 7 both times, in a winning cause against the Mumbai Indians first up, and in a losing one against the Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday.
Dhoni said his lack of time in the middle - his match against Mumbai was his first competitive game in 437 days after India's World Cup semi-final defeat to New Zealand in 2019 - was the primary reason he was coming lower down the order.
"Oh I haven't batted for a very long time, you know and the 14-day quarantine doesn't really help," he told Star, the host broadcaster, about his batting position. "[I'm] slowly trying to get into the tournament. Also at the same time, we want to try a few different things like Sam [Curran] or [Ravindra] Jadeja, sending them up.
"It's something we haven't done for a very long time and this gives us an opportunity to do that, at the start of the tournament. And as the tournament progresses you'll see the senior players stepping in and taking that responsibility, but otherwise we have been one team that has kept doing the same thing. I feel we have an opportunity over here where we can try a few different things if it works. If it doesn't work, we can always go back to what our strengths are."
Dhoni came in 114 for 5 in the 14th over, and was on 9 off 12 before ransacking 20 runs off the five balls he faced in the final over. That took the Super Kings to 200 for 6, a 16-run defeat after the Royals had piled on 216 for 7.
Stephen Fleming, the Super Kings coach, echoed Dhoni's words at the post-match press conference and held that in terms of overs remaining, the captain came in at the right time.
"We have this question every year," Fleming said on being asked if Dhoni had come in too late. "He was in in the 12th over [it was actually the 14th over], which is pretty much optimal time, and sort of batted accordingly. He is coming back from not playing a huge amount of cricket, so the expectations - to see him at his best - is going to take some time. But you see him towards the end, he was very good. Faf du Plessis carried the form, so we weren't too far away. It wasn't the batting that was the worry to be honest."
Dhoni felt that the start the Super Kings got wasn't good enough in a tall chase, and also said the team needed to do a better job at controlling the things they could, such as avoiding bowling no-balls. While not explicitly naming Lungi Ngidi, Dhoni pointed out that the Royals could have been restricted without the extras. Ngidi bowled the final over the innings, giving up 30 runs. He bowled two no-balls during the over, both of which were hit for sixes by Jofra Archer.
"I think with 217 on the board, we had to have a very good start, which was not the case," Dhoni said. "At the same time, we need to give credit to their bowlers also because there was a lot of dew. That's one thing you know, if you put runs on the board then you have seen in the first innings that what is a good length to bowl on that wicket, and I think that's what they did. They kept putting the ball in the same areas. Especially the spinners, they didn't try too many different things.
"It was important on this wicket to keep it away from the batsmen. Yes, they'll hit a few shots but at least you're not confused. A smaller outfield, you know you'll get hit a few from back of the length or short ones, then you'll get hit when you bowl up. I feel that was an error that our spinners committed in the first couple of overs that they bowled, two each. After that, we did come back nicely in the game.
"Without singling out anyone, I think what we could have done - which is a controllable - is [avoided] no-balls. Even when you're under pressure, try not to give no-balls because that's a controllable. You can't really control how the opposition batsman is batting. I feel that's one area we can improve in. If we could have maybe restricted them to 200, it would have been a very good game."

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo