Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
If one were to look for reasons for Chennai Super Kings' defeat, the obvious ones stare at the face. A tall chase dented beyond repair by the dismissals of Faf du Plessis and MS Dhoni off consecutive deliveries. Super Kings' patchy bowling after winning the toss, and David Warner's smash-mouth batting.
All the above factors undeniably had a hand in their loss. However, it's hard to overlook how Super Kings pushed the wrong buttons when they could have tripped up, or at least, slowed down Sunrisers Hyderabad. Had MS Dhoni revisited some of his bowling plans, they might have been chasing fewer than the 193 they eventually did.
Warner posed the most demanding test to Dhoni and Super Kings' ability to absorb shock and deflect it. He truculently pulled the very first delivery, bowled by Mohit Sharma, for four, and fed off the pace hurled at him. The short balls were shorn of menace; there was enough time for Warner to step back and redirect them when he wasn't scything the ball through the leg side or punching one past the bowler.
Dhoni was reacting, in the way he usually does. There was the familiar staccato whirring of arms, as fielders were moved to the area the previous ball went to. Cue the joke about not being able to score twice in the same region when Dhoni is the captain. But was he responding? There was enough evidence to suggest he didn't.
During the Powerplay, Dhoni has hedged his bets on his seamers, especially Ashish Nehra and Mohit. This is a departure from seasons past when R Ashwin would be seen opening the bowling. So loath has Dhoni been to use spinners inside the first six overs that Ashwin's introduction against Kolkata Knight Riders in Chennai was the only such instance in IPL 2014. Kolkata had zipped away to 52 for 0 in five overs on the occasion, and it was Ashwin's strike, off his first ball, that changed the course of the match.
The Hyderabad pitch had some grass on it and, according to Warner, was hard and bouncy. Which is why Dhoni had opted to bowl. But it was easy to see why Warner wasn't complaining. The sameness in bowling style, with no variation in pace, was the springboard Warner and his top-heavy side needed.
It was a ploy that had worked in earlier matches, when his seamers were doing his bidding. But now, it was reeking of tactical rigidity, and Sunrisers had galloped away to 76 in six overs. Even making allowance for R Ashwin's absence, Dhoni had in Suresh Raina a useful option to slow things down.
When Raina was eventually introduced in the seventh over, it paid off immediately. After playing his first over out quietly, Warner jumped out in the next to give deep square leg catching practice. And even though the next man, Moises Henriques, hit Raina for two sixes, his brief counter-offensive was fraught with risks all along. Soon enough, left-arm spinner Pawan Negi had him stumped in his first over.
Dhoni had delayed bringing Negi on until Warner's dismissal. It was in tune with another maxim high up on the Dhoni manual: never bring a left-arm spinner on when two left-handers are batting. But there were still openings to be exploited. From 128 for 2 in 12 overs, Sunrisers added just four runs in the next two overs, with Shikhar Dhawan getting run-out.
At the crease were Eoin Morgan, playing his first game in more than 10 days, and an out-of-form Naman Ojha. There was a real chance to put Sunrisers' fragile middle-order under pressure. But Dhoni, for the second time in the match, allowed them to get out of jail.
Mohit was handed the ball, and Ojha found the release he needed. With Ronit More engaged at the other end, the two overs yielded 24 runs. There was to be no more spin in the innings. Raina had completed his quota, giving away 29 runs. Negi had two more overs, and Ravindra Jadeja wasn't even considered. Granted he hasn't been having a great time lately, but surely an over wouldn't have not hurt? More so because Morgan was struggling to score at even a run a ball initially.
Mohit, instead, offered a friendlier brand of bowling to help Morgan's innings gain some legs. While Nehra and Dwayne Bravo bowled well, there was no one to back them up at the other end.
Dhoni was justified in blaming his bowlers for "not bowling to their field", but there was a case for a niftier approach to bowling changes. Dhoni the Test captain was often criticised for letting games drift, but his limited-overs captaincy has always been about staying ahead of the curve. His field-placements have been intuitive for the most part in this year's competition, but a tendency to stick to a formulaic bowling strategy, devoid of an element of surprise, revealed itself again on Saturday.
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Sunrisers vs Super Kings
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