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Dhoni back to being ‘The Finisher’

There was a phase not long ago when M.S. Dhoni was struggling to put together the big blows at the business end of a contest. The ‘Finisher’ was under increasing pressure. But then this should hardly come as a surprise for Dhoni has absolutely rocked IPL 2018. Any doubts about his fitness or form have been sent down the drain for critics as Captain Cool has responded with a bang. With bat, glove and brain he has ensured CSK win most of the matches to qualify for the playoff.

In IPL-11 though, Dhoni has been the force of nature, blowing away attacks at the Death. He has been clearing the ground with ease. Dhoni may have made alterations in technique which has made him the force of nature. While equanimity under stressful situations, bat speed, strong wrists and a flexible back-lift, have been his great allies, it is clear Dhoni has worked on certain aspects of his batting to lend it another dimension.

In the 11 matches so far Dhoni has amassed 393 runs at an average of 98.25 and at an astonishing strike rate of 163.75. IPL 2018 has been his highest average and strike rate ever having played the tournament since its inception.

Crucially, Dhoni has opened up his bat face in his stance just a bit, enabling him guide those wide yorkers between point and third man or power the ball through covers. Previously, the bat face used to be closed, making him a predominantly on-side player. Indeed, Dhoni has become more expansive between point and covers, and does seem to be putting less weight on his bottom hand for strokes through the off-side or down the ground. He also has a shuffle now, something that he did not possess earlier, that enables him to get in line with the stumps.

MS Dhoni was in sublime touch against Delhi Daredevils and his 22-ball 51 not out pretty much was the late boost that Chennai Super Kings needed. What stood out in that innings was this huge six which covered a distance of 108 metres. “It's the best I've seen him play for quite a few years,” said Mike Hussey, the Chennai batting coach, at the end of Dhoni’s latest round of heroics, and another Chennai victory, this time against Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Chasing a modest 128, Dhoni came in at 78/3 and hit a four and three sixes to score 31* in 23 balls to take his team to victory. That took Dhoni’s season tally to 19 fours and 27 sixes. In an earlier fixture between the two sides, Dhoni had smashed 70* in 34 balls to take Chennai to a five-wicket win over Bangalore. Then, the chase was of a huge 206 runs. 'He's the key man in our whole organisation both on and off the field' said Hussey on Dhoni.

Though on the losing side on the night, Kohli sported a big smile when asked about Dhoni’s batting. “Lovely to see. Everyone likes seeing MS strike the ball the way he does. It’s only a great sign for Indian cricket. The bigger picture is that, and we’re all very happy with that,” said Kohli, who leads Dhoni in limitedovers internationals. “We’d have liked to win, but he played well so deservingly they won the game.”

During a conversation several years ago, Dhoni said the yorker outside the off-stump was the toughest delivery to cope with. For toe-crushers in line with the stumps, he could still go deep into his crease and wrist them with enormous force over mid-wicket. However, yorkers outside off bothered him. Now, Dhoni, since he has opened up his bat face, glides or squeezes them for boundaries or walks across the stumps to bludgeon the ball over mid-wicket.

Earlier, left-arm spinners and leg-spinners, spinning the ball away, could contain Dhoni; he would be content to rotate the strike initially. Now, Dhoni, with new methods, is taking them on, cutting and pulling if the length is even slightly short, driving through the off-side and moving across and smoking them for on-side sixes. And since he stays so still when he strikes the ball, Dhoni allows the ground forces to enhance his shots and propel the ball with greater force.

He has also become fitter and stronger at 36 – the amount of work Dhoni puts into his training is phenomenal. Dhoni is batting with great freedom, enjoying his cricket and has altered his technique just a little bit. And he’s flying!

Chennai Super Kings CEO Kasi Viswanathan has said skipper Dhoni’s ability to marshal the talent available in the side brilliantly is the key factor. “Chennai Super Kings are blessed to have Dhoni, one of the greatest captains India has ever produced, in the side. He manages to get the best out of the players. The way how he is able to marshal the talent is brilliant,” Viswanathan said. Dhoni has been the constant factor behind Chennai Super Kings’ brilliant run. Under the former Indian skipper, the team won two IPL titles and reached the play-offs in every edition till 2015.

When asked about the consistent success of the two-time IPL champions, Viswanathan said, “If you look at Chennai Super Kings right from season one, the team is committed to doing well. The side is concentrating on putting in great performances in the field and is showing tremendous commitment. It is a total team effort.” CSK’s great run has been marred with disappointments. After playing against Kolkata Knight Riders at the MA Chidambaram stadium, the home games were shifted to Pune following protests from Tamil outfits over the Cauvery water dispute.

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