“Till the full stop doesn’t come, the sentence is not complete.”
It shouldn’t be happening. It can’t be happening. It is happening.
It’s late 2021, and a 40-year-old man who is days away from beginning his first mentorship stint is still finishing off crunch games, in style.
This is MS Dhoni. The robustness has reduced. The roar has sunken. The romance? It doesn’t end.
There isn’t always room for reason in romance – but let’s try to make sense of it.
“I’ve not done a lot in the tournament,” said Dhoni at the post-match presentation. Nope, this wasn’t modesty; you might even say he was being kind to himself.
Coming into the playoffs, Dhoni had made 96 runs off 101 balls across ten innings. Of the 71 batters with more than 50 runs this season, only two had scored slower; of the 40 batters with at least ten innings this season, only four had returned fewer runs per innings.
It wasn’t a one-off either; since the start of IPL 2020, across 22 innings, Dhoni was returning 13.45 runs per outing, while scoring 6.50 runs per over. You would have struggled to find a more-struggling batter in the competition in this time-frame.
Across these two seasons, Dhoni had played only one innings that featured more than three boundaries. He was taking more than eight balls per boundary that he did hit; he was failing to score from nearly 43 percent of the deliveries he had faced.
In the dressing room, padded up and seemingly ready to enter the stage, was Ravindra Jadeja – but when the fifth wicket fell, the league’s best-performing death batter since 2020 did not walk in.
In walked, instead, the Chennai Super Kings skipper, with his team needing 24 runs from 11 balls, in a playoff game, against Delhi Capitals – the league toppers, and a side who had won all four games against CSK since the start of IPL 2020. By the time he took strike for the first time on Sunday evening, the equation had become 19 to win off nine balls.
He hit 18 off six balls – a six to begin, followed by three consecutive fours – and his team was home with two balls to spare. The King had put the Super Kings into their ninth IPL final.
It doesn’t make sense. It cannot make sense. This is MS Dhoni. The romance doesn’t end.
Romance, over centuries, has often been a tale of courage.
Whichever way you spin it, the decision to come ahead of Jadeja was a courageous one. Dhoni had scored 59 runs from 71 balls in six innings in the UAE leg of IPL 2021 – that’s less than five runs per over. The brickbats, if this didn’t work out, may have never stopped coming his way.
But then again, romance, especially in modern times, requires belief.
On 10 October 2020, after CSK had tasted a fifth defeat in seven games, this one a rare heavy loss to Royal Challengers Bangalore, Dhoni said this: “I always told the players to focus more on the process. When you start thinking about results of the previous game, you put a burden.” Exactly a year on, he clearly wasn’t burdening himself with the thoughts of all the innings that hadn’t gone to plan in the last two seasons. He clearly believed.
And romance, even with all the courage and all the belief, often times, needs a sense of serendipity for it to cross over the line. Let’s examine DC’s tactics on the night.
Prior to Sunday, Dhoni had only hit 11 boundaries during IPL 2021 – and only one of those had come off a delivery that clocked more than 140 kmph. Of the six deliveries he faced in Dubai on Sunday, none touched 135 kmph. And one particular Delhi Capitals bowler, who had delivered 12 deliveries clocking 145+ kmph, and had one over left to bowl, wasn’t used.
Oh and, that bowler – Kagiso Rabada – just so happened to have conceded nine runs from 19 balls that he had bowled to Dhoni in all T20s (including two runs from six balls during this, his worst IPL season till date). Chosen ahead of Rabada for the 20th over was Tom Curran – death overs economy of 13.50 in the IPL, death overs figures of 0/51 in 3.4 overs in IPL 2021.
That’s not it. In these last two rapidly regressing seasons, prior to Sunday evening, Dhoni had only once managed to hit three consecutive boundaries, when he went 6-6-6 to end an unsuccessful chase against Rajasthan Royals at Sharjah last year. The bowler that time? Tom Curran.
Yeah, romance and reason – they don’t often go hand-in-hand.
Maybe the real lack of reasoning lies in us, for still trying to make sense of this enigma. At what point, really, has the MS Dhoni story – told or untold – made perfect sense?
Boy with cricket aspirations from Jharkhand, a region with no previous standout cricketing repute, examining tickets at a railway station in Kharagpur while most of his peers examined the international arena, with a wicket-keeping technique questioned by some and a batting technique questioned by many, who went on to become the first batter to reach 10,000 ODI runs at an average above 50, and played 300 matches as captain-keeper (no one else has done so more than 100 times), and led the country to every major title that was available, while simultaneously going from adopted son to christened God in a far-away state… and here we are, all these years later, still trying to make sense of the things he does?
“We’ll come back strong, that’s what we are known for,” a seething Super Kings skipper had proclaimed at the end of the road in UAE in 2020 – as CSK, for the first time, packed their bags before the final week of the IPL began.
In their transformation from woeful to 'wowful' over this campaign, his team had shown they were not done. On Sunday evening in Dubai, the captain took a team, a tournament, a country and the cricketing fraternity back in time, telling us the finisher wasn’t completely finished.
On to The Last Dance then, on Friday? Who knows? Why do we even bother?
This is MS Dhoni… the sentence is not complete.