Dad's Army's definitive conquest

Dad's Army's definitive conquest

A World T20 title (2007), a World Cup trophy (2011), a Champions Trophy triumph (2013), a tri-series win in Australia (2008), three Indian Premier League titles and two Champions League victories… Has there been a more successful limited-overs captain than Mahendra Singh Dhoni? The answer would be an emphatic NO.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar couldn’t have put it any better when he tweeted, “Can’t see any other captain pulling off a title win like this with the limitations CSK had. It had to be Dhoni to do it.”

Scorned and ridiculed as the 'dad’s army' for packing their side several players on the wrong side of 30, Chennai Super Kings scripted an extraordinary comeback to the league by winning the third IPL title in seven finals. 

Dhoni was perhaps the first Indian captain who refused to compromise with fielding. Nothing got his goat than a sloppy effort on the field. He even drew flak for “resting” and “rotating” some senior players who he thought were slow on the field. For someone who gave such emphasis on faster legs and stronger arms, it was a bit surprising to see him teem his team with players who weren’t the most-agile ones on the field. But then there’s always a certain method to Dhoni’s madness.

It’s not that Dhoni wasn’t aware of this shortcoming but he managed to negate that weakness by extracting the best in other departments. “We talked a lot about age, but what's more important is the fitness,” said Dhoni after receiving the trophy on Sunday night after beating Sunrisers Hyderabad in the final here.

“If you ask most captains, they want players who move well on the field. Doesn't matter if you're 19-20 years old. We knew our shortcomings, and we were aware of it. If (Shane) Watson tried to dive, he may have injured his hamstring, so we didn't want him to do that. We've been aware of these things. Age is just a number, but you have to be very fit,” he reasoned.

Apart from Dhoni’s inspirational leadership and his constantly-ticking mind, the team atmosphere too has played a big role in CSK’s dominance in the league. From the support staff, led by Stephen Fleming, to franchise owners who never interfere in matters that are cricketing, all have contributed in building a happy change room. Nothing demonstrates this fact than the complete turnaround in Shane Watson’s fortunes.

He went through a horror season with Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2017 when he managed just 71 runs in eight matches and claimed five wickets at an average of 45 runs. After this kind of season, it was hard to imagine anyone going for the veteran Aussie all-rounder, and he may have been pleasantly surprised to see CSK pick him in the January auction in Bengaluru. And what masterstroke it turned out to be for the Chennai team!

The 36-year-old turned the clock back, slamming 555 runs, the fifth highest this season, including two centuries. His unbeaten 117 in the final here will go down as one of the best T20 knocks and will certainly rank among top-five IPL knocks, given the magnitude of the occasion and the emotions involved in the CSK camp.

"It's just been a special season,” Watson said after receiving the man of the final award. “To get an opportunity after my previous year, was incredible. Things fell my way nicely tonight, but to be able to do it in such a big game... it's very special. The support from MS (Dhoni) and Fleming was excellent."

Coach Fleming too felt dressing-room atmosphere was crucial in maximising players’ potential. “Well, I hope a lot,” said Fleming when asked how much the happy dug-out contributed to Watson’s improved show.

“When you look at his season with RCB, he was in and out, and he batted at four. I also watched him closely at the Big Bash and there were signs that he was in good form. Certainly, every team that I have come up against, he seems in good form so the best way to get rid of him is to buy him. I had no doubt he was going to make an impact. Fitness was an issue as it is a long tournament, but he is more professional than even I thought. He is a bit broken now. Bowling we didn’t have to use him much but he has got through with one of his greatest performances,” he offered.