MS Dhoni played a fantastic knock against Punjab and raised hopes of another stunning victory but fell just short in the end. © BCCI

MS Dhoni played a fantastic knock against Punjab and raised hopes of another stunning victory but fell just short in the end. © BCCI

MS Dhoni nearly pulled off what would have been a third successive stunning win for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League 2018 on Sunday (April 15), but despite his 79 not out off 44 balls, his team fell four runs short of the 197 for 7 racked up by Kings XI Punjab at the PCA Stadium in Mohali.

Dhoni had to battle back pain in the latter half of the chase, but that didn’t prevent him from smashing 56 runs off 24 balls in the last six overs of the chase, with the fast-bowling pair of Andrew Tye and Mohit Sharma coming in for harsh treatment.

Speaking after the defeat, Dhoni told the host broadcaster that while his back did hurt, he was confident of making enough of a recovery to play in Chennai’s next game, which is in their new home ground of Pune, against Rajasthan Royals on Friday.

“It’s bad, but I don’t know how bad it is,” smiled Dhoni, quipping that he didn’t need his back to be strong to hit the big shots. “God has given me enough power (that) I don’t need to use my back a lot, the hands can do the job!

“We’ll assess how bad it is. It shouldn’t be too bad because I know what really happened, and once you know the kind of injury it is, it becomes easier to get out of it. And also, we have three-four days now before the next game, so there is enough time. But I’m quite used to playing with a few injuries, whether it’s back, fingers, elbow or something else. You have to be tough and play the game.”

Dhoni credited Gayle's 33-ball 63 as being one of the major factors that went in favour of Punjab. © BCCI

Dhoni credited Gayle’s 33-ball 63 as being one of the major factors that went in favour of Punjab. © BCCI

Dhoni said the difference between the teams was the innings of the returning Chris Gayle, who hit 63 off 33 at the top of the order for Punjab, and the bowling of Mujeeb Ur Rahman in the middle overs, the Afghanistan offspinner giving away only 18 runs in three overs.

“I think they bowled pretty well. Mujeeb, you can say, to a large extent was the major difference,” felt Dhoni. “It’s not really easy to hit him at will. Also in the second half we thought there will be dew, but I don’t think there was much dew. It was just sticking slightly for the spinners, but overall I think Chris’s innings and Mujeeb bowled really well, so they played better than us. We need to improve in a few areas. You can lose a few games in the league stages, but it was a close one which is important because it means you are competing.”

Chennai had won their opening two encounters in thrilling fashion, with Dwayne Bravo smashing 68 off 30 in a one-wicket win in the inaugural match against Mumbai Indians, and then Sam Billings hitting 56 off 23 to chase down Kolkata Knight Riders’ massive 202 for 6. In all three matches though, Bravo has come in to bat at No. 7, behind Ravindra Jadeja who has batted at No. 6.

Asked if sending Bravo ahead of Jadeja in the chase against Punjab might have been the better move, Dhoni said that promoting Jadeja was a conscious decision by the team management to unleash the Saurashtra allrounder’s full batting potential and also have a left-handed batsman in the mix.

“It’s a difficult one. (Stephen) Fleming (the coach) is in the dugout, so he needs to take that decision,” reflected Dhoni on the batting order against Punjab. “We have confidence in Jadeja also. One of the reasons being he’s left-handed and it’s not easy to bowl consistently at a left-hander. And also this is the time we can give him that opportunity to express himself. If he doesn’t do it, of course Bravo is an experienced one who can always go back and do the job for us. But if Jadeja can do the job, it will be really good. We have Raina at the top of the innings as one left-hander, and if Jadeja can do the job of a floater, it really makes it difficult for the opposition to plan.

“Unless we give him an opportunity, and so far we have never really given him the opportunity that he really deserves. I would definitely back him that in the coming games he’ll come good. Yes at times he’ll get off to a slow start, but you have to identify the talent and back the individual.”

Chennai have a team packed with veterans, the ‘oldest’ team in this year’s competition, and Dhoni was realistic about their fielding prowess, stressing that while they might not be ‘extraordinary’, they would always be safe. The main improvement Dhoni wanted was for his bowlers to react better when under pressure to win the fine margins which could make the difference between victory and defeat.

“Fielding we can’t improve, so I won’t really say that,” said Dhoni, smile still in place. “We’ll be a safe fielding side, we won’t be an extraordinary fielding side. We just have to make sure that when we are under the pump from the batsmen, what are the boundaries that we can omit, what are the easy deliveries that we are not supposed to give. Because good batsmen will hit you, and throughout IPL it is something that they (the bowlers) will have to go through. It’s just that if you keep cutting one or two boundaries here and there, at the end of the game you’ll realise that those were the seven or eight runs that really made the difference.

“It’s the start of the tournament, we have won two games and all have been close, so it means the individuals in the team will get to learn a lot from them. Overall I’m quite happy with the performance.”