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Talking Points: Should Sam Curran bat ahead of MS Dhoni now?

Also, how big a role did the change of ball play in the outcome of the match?

Sreshth Shah
Sreshth Shah
Talking points from the IPL 2021 game between the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals.
Did change of ball change the game?
On Sunday, KL Rahul, the Punjab Kings captain, had said after his team's defeat that for teams bowling in the second innings, the dew-drenched ball gets very difficult to handle. He said he had requested the umpires to change the wet ball at various stages but was denied. Rahul ended by suggesting that games would be more equal if the team bowling second got an opportunity to change the ball.
Tonight, Jos Buttler hammered a good-length ball from Ravindra Jadeja in the tenth over for a six over deep midwicket. The ball went so deep in the stands that the umpires had to get a replacement ball. The moment MS Dhoni got hold of the fresh (though not new, strictly) ball, he told Jadeja that the dry ball would turn.
In his next over, Jadeja got a length ball to turn across Buttler's bat to peg his off stump back. He then got a ball to turn in to trap Shivam Dube lbw. From the other end, Moeen Ali made full use of that ball to get David Miller, Riyan Parag and Chris Morris out. The Royals crumbled from 87 for 2 to 95 for 7, and the pendulum shifted significantly.
"The wet ball was spinning a bit, so the dry ball would turn even more," Dhoni explained in the post-match show on Star Sports. "That's what I told Jadeja." Buttler might have brought about his team's downfall by sending that wet ball as far as he did.
Should Super Kings look beyond Gaikwad?
After two single-digit scores in the first two games, Ruturaj Gaikwad was dropped off the first ball on Monday. He was eventually out for a 13-ball 10.
The Super Kings have the lowest run rate (6.96) in the powerplay since IPL 2020, and for a team that bats so deep, that's unusual. The Super Kings are not utilising their first six overs to the best of their potential, especially with two batters in Faf du Plessis and Gaikwad who have similar strike rates, just under 130, in T20s.
So the Super Kings have two options to consider: replace Gaikwad with Robin Uthappa, someone who enjoys being a powerplay dominator. That will also allow du Plessis to play the role of an anchor.
The other option is pushing Moeen Ali as an opener and getting K Gowtham in the XI. The Super Kings have Dwayne Bravo carded in at No. 9, Shardul Thakur at No. 10 and Deepak Chahar at No. 11, so they bat very deep. They can afford to play an extra bowler while still ensuring everyone in the XI can swing the bat. It might just add that extra dimension in their batting approach.
There's a third option too, slightly left field, but one that could be considered: Cheteshwar Pujara as an opener. But then, MS Dhoni doesn't like chopping and changing. So it needs to be seen how long a rope Gaikwad gets.
Should Curran have batted ahead of Dhoni?
Dhoni no longer bats at No. 4 or 5 for the Super Kings. That means if things are going well for his team, he will most likely be coming out to bat in the last quarter of the innings. In that phase, it's important to get off the blocks quickly.
Dhoni, on average, has scored 11.4 runs in his first ten balls since April 2020. Sam Curran has scored 14.4 in his first ten in the same period. Add Curran's current form from the India series, and his 15-ball 34 against the Delhi Capitals in their season opener, and Curran is much better suited to utilise the few deliveries left in an innings.
The only time where Dhoni is better off coming ahead of Curran is if he needs to arrest a collapse. Dhoni gets going after playing out a few balls, and when he's not attacking, he can be tough to dismiss. However, when you need to maximise your total - especially while batting first, and in an XI that bats so deep - your best option is to give more balls to the one who starts off quicker. As it turned out, Dhoni scored 18 in 17 balls, Curran made 13 in six. If it wasn't for Bravo's eight-ball 20 in the last two overs, the Super Kings would've struggled to breach 180.
Sending Curran ahead of Dhoni is something that both Dale Steyn and Ajit Agarkar agreed with on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time Out show.
"You've got to get Curran up higher, we said it games ago," Steyn said. "You can just see that Jadeja and Dhoni are not themselves right now. Their heads were up in the air, they were trying to just muscle it, their eyes were not focused on the ball.
"And then Curran comes in and hits the second ball over extra cover for six. You know he's in form, and when a guy is in form, get them in early and let them bat."
Indeed, Dhoni said after the game that the first six balls he had faced - in which he scored just one run - could well have cost his side a match on another day.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx