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MS Dhoni, and managing chaos

ESPNcricinfo logo ESPNcricinfo 21-05-2018 Deivarayan Muthu
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At a recent promotional event, MS Dhoni was asked: "[Erwin] Rommel, the legendary German general, said no plan survives contact. How do you relate that to cricket?"

"After the first ball is bowled, it's only chaos," Dhoni replied. "What you are trying to do is you're trying to manage the chaos. It's not like a script that happens. My coach Stephen Fleming often comes and does that. He says 'mate, Lungi [Ngidi] can bowl the first over, then somebody else second' and so on. Yes, I know who are the bowlers and they will bowl at some point of time. But it does not work like that. It's about adaptability.

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T20 cricket is all about managing chaos. Mohit Sharma had Chennai Super Kings' gun batsman Ambati Rayudu nicking off for 1 in the last league match of IPL 2018. At the other end, Ankit Rajpoot was hooping the ball around on a well-grassed Pune pitch that might have reminded him of his stint as a net bowler in South Africa earlier this year. He teased Faf du Plessis' outside edge before finding it in his third over. He then bowled Sam Billings with a perfectly pitched ball that jagged away past the outside edge. CSK were 27 for 3 in the fifth over in pursuit of 154.

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Rajpoot might have expected Dhoni or Dwayne Bravo to walk out and face the hat-trick ball. Instead, Harbhajan Singh was promoted to No. 5. He averted the hat-trick but could have been out next ball had Aaron Finch not dived to his left at second slip and got in the way of a straightforward catch for Chris Gayle at first slip. In the next over, Harbhajan nearly ran himself out. Then came the devil-may-care slash to the point boundary. Kings XI needed to limit CSK to 100 or less to sneak into the playoffs. So, it made sense for Ashwin to bowl Rajpoot out in a bid to make further inroads into the CSK batting line-up.

Harbhajan, however, kept swinging for the hills against Rajpoot and connected with a length ball that he biffed over extra cover. He saw out Rajpoot's spell and left Kings XI twitching. He ultimately fell lbw attempting a big slog-sweep against an offbreak from R Ashwin. CSK were now 58 for 4 and the asking rate was ballooning towards 10. The packed Sunday crowd at the MCA Stadium was waiting for Dhoni to come out and prick it. Instead, Deepak Chahar was promoted to No. 6.

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CSK's coach Fleming had endorsed Chahar's batting skills earlier in the tournament, but this was a tough chase on a tough pitch. Chahar and Suresh Raina, however, quietly tapped the ball into the gaps and narrowed the equation to 73 off 36 balls.

In the next over, Chahar lined up Ashwin and hit him for three boundaries, including a languid loft over long-off. It had his former Rajasthan captain and former Rising Pune Supergiant assistant coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar tweeting: "Deepak Chahar is not a slogger like most think. He is a talented batsman capable of surprising he best of the bowlers in the #ipl18."

And surprise he did with 39 off 20 runs at a strike rate of 195 and - as per ESPNcricinfo's new T20 metrics - a Smart Strike Rate of 274.36 on a pitch where even some of the frontline batsmen struggled.

"I can't say it was our plan [bowling to a pinch-hitter]," Kings XI coach Brad Hodge said at the post-match press conference. "MS and his side were in a position to pull guys up [the order] and have confidence in them. MS does these sorts of courageous stuff and that's why he's a champion and that's why they are a champion team.

"We look to emulate such things and we know we're short on experience compared to Chennai Super Kings but hopefully in the coming years, whatever group comes together, we will learn those traits and hopefully have the courage to have trust in them to get the job done."

Dhoni, on his part, explained that CSK had sent in the two pinch-hitters to throw the Kings XI bowlers off their lines and lengths. "Sending in Bhajji [Harbhajan] and Chahar creates chaos," Dhoni told host broadcaster Star Sports. "The bowlers all of a sudden bowl yorkers, offcutters, and bouncers. When [top-order] batsmen are batting, they stick to a good line and length, but against Bhajji and Chahar, they lose their line and lengths instead of sticking to the plan. Plus Bhajji and Chahar could come in handy during the playoffs."

When Chahar holed out at the start of the 17th over, CSK needed 40 off 23 balls. Raina brought up his fourth fifty of the season and then Dhoni provided a blockbuster finish with a hooked six. Chaos managed. Top-two finish in the league phase confirmed. Over to the Pune-Mumbai expressway for Qualifier 1 against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Wankhede Stadium on May 22.

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