T20 is a format that's fickle and frantic, but MS Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings have somehow cracked consistency, reaching the IPL knockouts in each of the ten seasons they have been a part of. Rahul Dravid, who has come up against the Super Kings both as captain and coach, put down the team's success to a combination of their use of data and Dhoni's instincts.
Dravid was speaking at a webinar hosted by the Great Lakes Institute of Management, where N Srinivasan, the former BCCI chief and head of India Cements, which owns Super Kings, was also present, and he labelled Dhoni a "pure instinct man".
"If you look at the success CSK has had, they've got really good access to data and they've got really good access to people behind the scenes and they've run cricket teams at the junior level," Dravid said. "They understand talent and they've obviously got a good scouting process in place. But, what they also have is a captain who really understands instincts. So, I mean, look, I know Dhoni quite well and I hope he hasn't changed, but I know Dhoni is probably not one to look at reams of data and statistics.
"And he's probably not going to get as involved in the auction process because when you're looking at picking a squad of say 25 players or 28 players as CSK would, they need so much of information because there are so many players that they can pick from. They are probably not going to have the ability to see each and every one of the thousands of cricketers who play cricket in India and the overseas players, right?
"So, you're going to heavily rely on data and whatever metrics you put up. And, I think, the right metrics is critical because obviously CSK does that when assembling a squad. Then, what you do is once you've handed over the squad to the coach and to captain on the field, it's critically important to have somebody with instincts and get the better of it, which obviously Dhoni is good at.
"There was one outstanding player that we suggested to MS, he said: 'no sir, he will spoil the team' .The cohesion within the team is important and see in America, franchise-based sport has been there for such a long time."
"In the heat of the battle, you have your analysis, you got your coach and you've probably planned the game. But there are critical moments in a game, especially in a Twenty20 game, when every over matters. You can't rely on data all the time… because you collect it from a past event. But, on that particular day, he (the player) might not be feeling very well or the captain might have noticed that his form is not good on that particular moment. That's where instinct comes in and ability to read the game, which Dhoni clearly has."
Dhoni's instinct and game-smarts came to the fore again during the 2010 IPL final, where he trapped Kieron Pollard with a funky field. Given Pollard's propensity to hit the ball down the ground, Dhoni posted Matthew Hayden at straight mid-off and challenged Pollard to clear that fielder. However, Pollard only scooped Albie Morkel straight to Hayden as Super Kings went on to win their maiden IPL title.
More recently, during the 2019 IPL final, Dhoni had one of his best fielders, Faf du Plessis, at straight long-off or straight long-on against Pollard. And when R Ashwin was at the Super Kings, Dhoni used the spinner as a powerplay option and often deployed a leg slip for him.
During a Champions League T20 fixture in 2010 against Victoria in Port Elizabeth, Dhoni entrusted part-time offspinner Suresh Raina with the responsibility of defending 11 off the final over. Raina plucked two wickets and gave up two boundaries before Bryce McGain's run-out off the last ball helped the Super Kings tie the game.
Srinivasan agreed that Dhoni's tactics and judgment had been central to Super Kings' set-up. He also said that Dhoni didn't really believe in team meetings, something Dwayne Bravo revealed last year.
"We're awash with data just now," Srinivasan said. "To give you an example, there are bowling coaches and in a T20 game, they play videos of every batsman whom they're going to come against and they see how he got out, what's his strength, what's his weakness etc. So, MS Dhoni doesn't attend this, he's a pure instinct man. The bowling coach, [head coach Stephen] Fleming will be there and everybody will be there, everyone is giving opinions, [but] he'll get up and go.
"In the context of instinct, he feels that he can assess a batsman or player on the field, that's his judgement. On the other hand, there is so much of data that is available to help a person also analyse. It's a very difficult line to draw [between data and instinct]."
Srinivasan also outlined the challenges of bringing players from different cultures together and running an IPL franchise.
"There was one outstanding player that we suggested to MS, he said: 'no sir, he will spoil the team'. The cohesion within the team is important and see in America, franchise-based sport has been there for such a long time," he said. "In India, we're just starting and we're new to it. But we at India Cements have had a lot of experience running teams at junior levels - Rahul has been part of us - [and] one aspect is that we understood from the beginning is when you manage and run a team, you own the franchise, not the player. You own the team, but not each and every player.
"If we're talking of competitive IPL or competitive T20, all of them are outstanding performers. To get 10-12 people together and to keep the peace between them itself is not an easy task."