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When Dhoni and CSK took over RCB's home advantage

A wave of yellow washed over the Chinnaswamy Stadium, and CSK and RCB treated their fans to another high-scoring thriller

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
CSK fans turned out in huge numbers to soak in the MS Dhoni experience in Bengaluru  •  BCCI

CSK fans turned out in huge numbers to soak in the MS Dhoni experience in Bengaluru  •  BCCI

The M Chinnaswamy Stadium was predominantly yellow. Hours before the marquee match between RCB and CSK, hundreds of fans had queued at the ticket counter. They fully expected to be rejected, but wanted to try anyway.
Earlier, there was similar fervour at the team hotel two kilometres down the road. Security personnel were told to reserve entry only for hotel guests once fans packed the coffee shop on the ground floor. They were waiting for one man, and the moment he stepped out of the elevator and onto the long walkway leading to the team bus, the coffee shop emptied quickly. Everyone had made a beeline towards MS Dhoni.
With CSK's fan army descending on Bengaluru in huge numbers, you could have mistaken this to be the Chepauk or anywhere in Chennai.
It was Dhoni versus Virat Kohli, after all. Perhaps for one last time in the IPL, given the two sides don't have a second league fixture this season, unless of course they meet in the playoffs.
The only real 'home advantage' that RCB enjoys is their crowd support. Not the flat pitch or the small boundaries. Going by the number of yellow jerseys at the Chinnaswamy, that crowd support had been eroded to 50-50 at best. It was the first time the two sides were playing in Bengaluru since the pandemic; and this fixture has usually been an explosive, high-scoring contest.
Monday night was no different. For the second time, CSK and RCB smashed the most sixes - 33 - in an IPL game. The previous occasion was in 2018, when Dhoni walked into the chase with 132 needed off 66, and smacked seven maximums on his own.
Mohammed Siraj had suffered that night, going for 48 in four wicketless overs. His failed attempts at nailing wide yorkers dispatched repeatedly by Dhoni's powerful bat swing. The much-improved Siraj who steamed in last night, however, was perhaps the reason RCB were chasing 227 and not 247. Coming into this game, his economy in the powerplay was 4.70 and he was even more economical against CSK, taking 1 for 6 in his first two overs.
Devon Conway is the most recent of CSK's deceptively destructive openers, much like M Vijay, Mike Hussey and Faf du Plessis - now the opposition captain - before him. His 45-ball 83 set the tone for this high-scoring contest, and eventually earned him the Player of the Match award.
Shivam Dube loves playing RCB ever since they released him after spending INR 5 crore to buy him at the 2018 auction. Last night was more of the same. His method was simple: stand-and-deliver to balls in his swinging arc. Each of his five sixes during his 27-ball 52 was different, but all were smashed whistle-clean onto the roof, near the DJ console, into the second tier, and the hospitality boxes.
Despite the powerful batting performance, Dhoni was slightly testy on the field. Did he expect the defence to be any different? Definitely not.
In the second over of RCB's chase, two balls after Maheesh Theekshana dropped a catch at mid-off, Dhoni himself put down a chance. It was the kind of catch he'd take 99 times out of 100, but he didn't even lay a glove on the ball.
Du Plessis made him pay. His and Glenn Maxwell's sensational six hitting threatened to blindside CSK. Wincing in pain because of a bruised rib that needed regular medical attention, du Plessis raced to his fifty off 23 balls. Maxwell got there in 24. The ferocity of their chase had Hussey, CSK's batting coach, sitting in the dugout with his hands on either cheek. You couldn't have found a better expression than that to describe a jaw drop.
Usually not a man of many words on the field, Dhoni was seen talking to his fast bowlers often last night. He's used to having the experience of Dwayne Bravo and Deepak Chahar to call on, but now CSK had the inexperienced Tushar Deshpande, Akash Singh and Matheesha Pathirana taking on the marauding RCB batters. Dhoni ran instructions to his rookies - wonky knees be dammed - and often patted them on the back. There was a match to win.
And when the first chance at redeeming himself came along - a steepling catch off a Maxwell slog - Dhoni allayed any fears CSK fans may have had of Theekshana having to catch it, by calling for it himself and waving everyone else out of the way. He did not celebrate though, and instead walked over to the umpire to tell them how close the ball had come to making contact with the spider-cam cables.
Dhoni then did something even more unusual. He reviewed a not-out lbw decision against Shahbaz Ahmed even though it was clear the ball from Theekshana had pitched far outside leg stump. At 143 for 3 in the 13th over, RCB were still ahead.
Then came the turning point of the chase. Moeen Ali had just been walloped for two sixes, while bowling flat and short. You couldn't tell what Dhoni told his bowler while the ball was being retrieved, but Moeen immediately began giving his delivery more air. Two balls later, he forced a top edge from du Plessis. Another steepling chance, extremely similar to the Maxwell dismissal, and once again Dhoni called and caught it.
The Dhoni-est of Dhoni actions, however, was reserved for the finish, when he backed 'baby Malinga' to defend 19 in the final over in his first game of the season. And it was only as 20-year-old Pathirana closed out an eight-run victory and the crowd went berserk that a hint of a smile appeared on Dhoni's face.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo