Match Analysis

CSK do CSK things as Dhoni masterminds route to yet another IPL final

They might be stubborn to a fault, but their mantra works: the team making fewer mistakes wins more often than not

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
When a batter is struggling the way Devon Conway was, the broadcast cameras turn to the dugout and the dressing room for reactions. Seen as the new Michael Hussey for Chennai Super Kings, Conway seemed unable to hit out or get out even as Ruturaj Gaikwad scored fluently at the other end. It was like he was in quicksand: the harder he tried, the deeper he sank. He was in control of exactly half the deliveries he faced.
Yet, no camera could spot a reaction in the dugout, where coach Stephen Fleming sat, or in the dressing room, where MS Dhoni sat. Dhoni has been through this before. He has seen Yuvraj Singh get stuck in the T20 World Cup final in 2014 but with much less luck than Conway, who at least found a few edged boundaries. He has seen Ravindra Jadeja get stuck in a previous T20 World Cup in England, but that has not stopped him from backing Jadeja.
You wonder if Dhoni was reminded of that Dhaka night, but you also had to be certain that not for a second would anyone in that camp have even thought of something as funky as pulling one of their most reliable batters out so that someone else can have a go.
CSK don't believe in anything funky. If a specialist batter of their side is finding it tough out there, they believe there's every chance the new batter will find it tougher. They are happy as long as the player is showing the right intent and trying to do what he has trained for.
When the camera did catch a reaction from Dhoni, it was when the game was done and dusted, as GT needed 31 off eight with one wicket in hand, and Tushar Deshpande tried to bluff Mohammed Shami looking for a wicket. He let out a long "kyuuuuuun" [whyyyyyyy] and showed Deshpande the number of fielders on the off side when he bowled at Shami's pads.
In the same vein, Dhoni said in the post-match presentation that he has told his fielders that dropping a catch won't draw a reaction from him but not looking at him all the time - he is a fastidious captain who keeps moving his fielders a couple of feet this way or that often - will not be good for them.
The process matters, the results don't: it sounds good to hear, but in a playoff, when the match is slipping away, when you are aware of what the dew did to your bowlers in the last match at the same venue, there aren't many leaders other than Dhoni and Fleming who still manage to believe that the team making fewer mistakes wins more often than not.
On the night, Hardik Pandya said their side made more "basic errors". Despite being the best side in the tournament, they were doing all the running: bringing in a player for the first time this IPL, disrupting the batting order that won them the last match without a straightforward reason. Pandya also said they gave up two-three slot balls too many, which was the difference between the two sides.
This isn't to vindicate not improvising. CSK and India under Dhoni have lost matches in the past when they perhaps would have been better off improvising, but CSK are happy to live with those days when the other side wins despite making more errors in a format of cricket that depends heavily on luck. They are happy with 160 and competing rather than going for 180 and risking being bowled out for 140.
The luck was on CSK's side. Only the second front-foot no-ball by Gujarat Titans turned out to be the one that got Ruturaj Gaikwad's wicket, who went on to become the Player of the Match. CSK scored 14 extra runs because of that according to ESPNcricinfo's Luck Index; they won by 15.
More importantly, the dew arrived later than the other night and offered them a 45-minute period between the powerplay and the death where Jadeja and Maheesh Theekshana were able to turn the ball at high speed. At such times, the combination of Dhoni and Jadeja is irresistible, and Theekshana is quickly joining the club.
Even when a mistake was inevitable, Dhoni had the presence of mind to choose the smaller one. We don't know what the fitness issue was, but Matheesha Pathirana was off the field for some time after his first over. At the time the 16th over was starting, he still had not served enough time on the field to be able to start his second over. Had he not bowled Pathirana then, Dhoni would have had to do without four overs from his main weapon at the death.
Between having to miss out on one Pathirana over and instead bowling a bowler who is cold, and having an extra fielder in the circle for one over, Dhoni picked the obvious lesser evil. He let the clock run until the umpires said Pathirana had served his time, and went ahead without fuss. This was Dhoni's captaincy version of what he tells his bowlers: if you bowl a bad over, make sure it is 13-14-run bad and not 20-run bad.
In an endearing post-match interview, Dhoni was asked if he has reached a stage where he can call the 10th IPL final in 14 attempts just another final. Already a little emotional from the generous reaction from the crowd, Dhoni said that in a tournament as big as IPL there can never be "just another final". Who knows it could even be the last match he plays for CSK. For four hours on Sunday then, can he and Fleming pretend the results don't matter and the process does?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo