Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Chennai Super Kings skipper, on Monday (June 11) revealed that he wanted to bat at top of the order as batting in the lower half was similar to being in quicksand for him.
After struggling in the first couple of matches of the Indian Premier League 2018, Dhoni turned back the clock and ended the season with 455 runs at an impressive average of 75.83 to play a key role in guiding Chennai to their third title.
Speaking on the sidelines of Star Reimagine Awards, Dhoni said he wanted to give him more opportunities to win games for his side. “Fitness part started a few years back, when I left Test cricket, when it comes to this IPL (consciousness about fitness) started the day we sat to make our team,” he explained. “I was sure in my mind that I wanted to bat up the order, because with age, me batting down the order was like quicksand.
“I wanted to make it sure that I wanted to take the responsibility of winning the game, but I was coming so down the order that I was not giving time to myself.”
Returning to the competition after spending two years out due to a ban, Chennai managed to retain and acquire the core group in the mega-auction. Every single player stood for the team when required and helped Chennai complete a successful campaign.
The 36-year-old said that he wanted to build a team which bats deep. “So, it was more like quicksand, the more I flutter, the deeper I would go,” said Dhoni. “So, I said that I want to make a team where we bat deep, that gives me a chance to bat up the order, and to me up the order doesn’t mean I want to bat at three, four or five, it’s the number of overs.
“Yes, when Ambati (Rayudu) started to bat at four, I have to give him that berth because he was almost the leading scorer for us. So, if he has to come down and bat for the requirement of the team, then he needs to bat at number four because he was ideally suited for that position.”
Batting in the middle-order allowed Dhoni to bat freely and aggressively. “So, I said that I want to bat up, so when I go into bat, I would like to bat aggressive, so that even if I get out, it gives others a chance to reinvent themselves about finishing the game, what they need to do, if they are under pressure and all of that,” he remarked.
“Fortunately, we did not use our batting order to the full extent in the whole of IPL because Watson, Rayudu, Raina, me, Bravo, we all kept scoring runs and that really helped us. But, my planning, right from the start, was sure to make a team, which bats deep, everybody should be able to bat, and that gives me an opportunity to go out there and express myself.”
Short and sweet team meetings
Both Dhoni and Stephen Fleming, the head coach, like to keep things short and simple, and that’s exactly how Chennai’s team meetings panned out throughout the course of the season.
The skipper of arguably the most successful franchise of the competition revealed that Chennai’s pre-match meeting ahead of their final against the Sunrisers Hyderabad – which they won by eight wickets on the back of Shane Watson’s scintillating 57-ball 117* – lasted for just five seconds.
“The team meeting that we had, lasted hardly five seconds. Fleming was like: ‘Go, get it boys.’ And it got over,” said Dhoni. “I think at that point of time, we were quite relaxed about how we’d conducted ourselves throughout the tournament. And everybody’s role and responsibilities were very clear. So, you need to address something if it really needs to be addressed. You know, there’s no point, just because if there’s a captain and a coach of the team, you’ve to say something.”
Dhoni feels the familiar and relaxed environment made it easier for them to operate. “I always have felt that this was one of the secrets why CSK keep doing that (winning the IPL),” he pointed out. “We don’t have a long list of meetings. We don’t have too many meetings because we’ve played so long each with other, against each other, you know the conditions so well, you exactly know how you need to operate. And there’s no rocket science.
“Yes, we’ve the bowlers’ meetings, the batters’ meeting, and I don’t become a part of the batters’ meeting. A lot of times, people do it because they need to tick a box. And in CSK, there’s no justification that happens… you know that the bowling coach doesn’t need to justify to the owners.”
The only time Chennai opted to have a team meeting was before their group stage match against Kings XI Punjab, and that didn’t go in their favour as they were blown away by Chris Gayle. “We had a bowler’s meeting you know, before Gayle hit that century (against CSK),” said Dhoni.
“A lot of times, it happens that you do it for the sake of doing it. You know you say before the finals, ‘Oh we did this, we did that.’ That’s not in our case. We try to keep it as simple as possible. What’s important as a coaching staff, or as a captain, you need to give advices to a player according to what they can achieve. All of a sudden, you can’t tell somebody, ‘Ok, you need to bowl outside off-stump yorkers,’ and that guy has never done that. So you’ve to tell that guy according to what his strength is and he’s to improve his weak areas. That’s what is brilliant about us.”