All good things come to an end – even MS Dhoni and IPL play-offs. For the first time in the IPL's nine-year history, he may not feature in the play-offs. It's not late and his Chennai Super Kings have pulled off remarkable comebacks to scrape through the door before – most notably that 2010 season. But let's admit it – this is no CSK 2.0 as the fans had hoped for, and sadly this is not the same Dhoni we have come to expect. So what went so wrong for the greatest captain in the IPL?
1. The auctions and the choices:
Things were wrong even before Ajinkya Rahane faced the first ball in their first match. While the other new team Gujarat Lions and the old-but-new look Delhi Daredevils were going for quality bowlers, the RPSG selectors seemed to have had a warped view of T20, that just batsmen are enough to win these silly matches – at the end, it was a torso with two right hands. While the batting appeared to have been the best that money could buy with Rahane, Faf du Plessis, Kevin Pietersen, Steve Smith and Dhoni holding the ranks, the bowling was built around only one name – R Ashwin. At CSK, Ashwin had the company of multiple purple cap holders. This team, however, expected him to wave his magic wand every fourth evening. But Ashwin had dropped it sometime after the Asia Cup and is yet to find it.
Additionally, their best overseas bowler from the auctions was Scott Boland, whose international T20 stats read 2 matches – 0 wickets – 9.14 economy.
2. The failed fairytale:
Before the event began, the Pune batting line-up was so strong it could send shockwaves down any bowling attack. After the first match, the numbers since have shown serious shortcomings.
Fact – Pune have lost the least wickets per game on average at 4.63. While that should augur well, the flipside of it is that they have failed to utilize the other batsmen. T20 is a game loaded towards the batting sides who have 10 wickets to lose in 20 overs. When you use not even half of that, it's plain poor utilization of resources unless you have scored insurmountable targets within those wickets – Pune have not done that.
While Ajinkya Rahane has provided solidity at the top, he has failed to convert that into match-winning knocks, except that opener. Rahane has scored four 50s, and 280 runs but at the expense of 223 balls at a 125 strike rate.
That would not have been so bad if it was not coupled with the failure of the middle order to accelerate from there. Pune's death-batting form has been ping-pong – more often than not, they have failed here scoring 42 against Gujarat, 43 against Punjab and 39 against Mumbai in the last 5 overs. On one of the two occasions when they did fire, they had to take the score from 100 at 15 overs to 160 by the end in a losing cause.
Consequently, Pune have been left defending chaseable targets or chasing spiked-up required rates at the death alternatively.
3. Spinner shortcomings:
Ashwin was the bedrock of the CSK bowling, and Dhoni had come to rely on him through the years. He could open the bowling and scalp early wickets, come over in the middle and contain the runs, and also bowl at the death. But the spinner's indifferent phase could not have happened at a worse time. He has taken a total of 3 wickets in his 8 matches so far this IPL. He has been so poor that Dhoni has not completed his quota in quite a few matches. What a mighty fall for “the best spinner in the world” a few months back!
The over-reliance on Ashwin has meant Pune need their back-up and Ashwin's namesake, Murugan Ashwin, to come through. He, however, has sputtered and stuttered. Murugan has all of 1 wicket to show in his past 5 outings after some initial success. The other spinner, Ankit Sharma, has scalped 1 wicket in his 3 matches so far.
4. Injury woes:
What do you do when you put all your golden eggs in one basket - other than hope and pray? They had better installed a revolving door in the Pune dressing room as players have come and gone with alarming regularity – Pietersen, Mitchell Marsh, Du Plessis, Steve Smith.
Pietersen's calf. Marsh's abdomen. Du Plessis ' finger. And now Steve Smith's wrist.— Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) May 2, 2016
RPSG will soon be one full human being short.
While Usman Khawaja and George Bailey have been roped in, rarely have mid-way replacements fired consistently in the IPL, with the notable exception of Chris Gayle in 2011. Additionally, expecting these two to rejuvenate a flagging campaign to take them into the play-offs is an impractical ask.
5. Lack of a world-class all-rounder:
Every team this year has all-rounders with a problem of plenty – Delhi has Duminy, Morris and Brathwaite. KKR has Russell, Yusuf Pathan and Shakib Al-Hassan. Gujarat have Bravo, Faulkner and Jadeja.
RPSG have none, may be one – Mitchell Marsh, but he has already fallen to the injury battles. True they have two all-rounders in Irfan Pathan and Thisara Perrera, but neither is anywhere close to world-class. Dhoni's trust in Irfan Pathan is so high that he has played the all-rounder only once in 23 times, and he did nothing much even in that match – he got to face the last two balls of the innings and bowled one over.
Thisara Perrera, meanwhile, shone through early on in the losing cause against RCB but has since been quite subdued. What Dhoni lacks is a world-class all-rounder like he had at CSK in Bravo – someone who would bowl consistently at the death and can play up the order as a pinch-hitter as and when needed.
6. Dhoni's form
Most pressing of all concerns for Pune is their skipper's form. Coming in at the 13th over in the last match against Mumbai, Dhoni struggled in the midst as Pune went from a comfortable 105 to make only 54 runs off the next 47 balls – Dhoni used up half of those balls and scored less than half of those runs at 24 runs off 24 balls. A 38-ball 41 has been his highest score this season, and even that came in a losing cause at the Chinnaswamy where every two-bit player has been able to score runs at will.
His form coupled with the weight of a captaincy bereft of the necessary arsenal has left MSD in an unenviable position. Match after match, he has cut a forlorn figure behind the stumps as his bowlers have been creamed across the grounds, and that appears to be a sight we may have to prepare ourselves for some time – at least till the end of this league stage.