Mahendra Singh Dhoni needs no introduction to cricket. If great Sachin Tendulkar is deemed god of the sport, then Dhoni will always be remembered as the greatest contributor to Indian cricket. Over the years, we have witnessed Dhoni flourishing in different roles. Whether it's his leadership skills, lightening quick glovework or finishing abilities, Dhoni has successfully managed to do it all.
And, while age might be catching up on him and he may no longer be the finisher he once was, Dhoni, even now, has no match when it comes to understanding the game and taking key decisions that tends to aid his team more often, than not.
In the last two One-Day Internationals (ODIs) against Australia at home, Dhoni's absence was heavily felt, not just behind the stumps, but also on the field. Virat Kohli-led India failed to read the conditions on both the occasions that eventually saw them bottling a 2-0 lead to eventually losing the five-match ODI series 3-2.
The opening match of the twelfth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) witnessed something similar and, once again, showed how important Dhoni is for his team. Ahead of the match, while Kohli decided to go for two spinners and three pace bowlers, Dhoni read the pitch down to the core before including an all-out spin attack.
He raised a few eyebrows by picking a playing XI that included veteran Harbhajan Singh who took just seven wickets in 13 games last season. Dhoni also had Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja in the line-up with the likes of Suresh Raina and Kedar Jadhav more than capable of chipping in with their spin bowling. In fact, the CSK skipper appeared so convinced in his spinners that he dropped an extra batsman in Faf du Plessis and went with just three overseas players into the opening match.
At the toss, Dhoni claimed: "We have played a few practice games and it looks slightly on the slower side. We are not sure about the wicket, so we are not sure which target to set". But, knowing someone as shrewd a tactician as Dhoni, you'd agree that he was probably bluffing while holding all the right cards in his hands. And, as expected, Dhoni's masterstroke of playing a spin-heavy bowling attack paid off big time.
Starting off with Deepak Chahar, both the teams got to know that it wasn't going to be an ideal run-fest you'd expect from an opener. Sensing that the ball wasn't coming onto the bat, Dhoni introduced spin right from the second over, tossing the ball to Bhajji. For a man who took his last T20 wicket against Rajasthan Royals (RR) on 11th May last year, the CSK offie caused all sorts of problems to the RCB batting line-up.
He struck in his second over to get rid of destructive Kohli who picked Ravindra Jadeja in the deep after scoring six runs off 12 deliveries. In his next over, Harbhajan sent Moeen Ali packing after his clever variation resulted in a simple caught and bowled dismissal. His final over began with frustration as Tahir dropped AB de Villiers at deep square leg, but Harbhajan got his man on the very next delivery - thanks to a brilliant diving catch by Jadeja.
Dhoni's decision to bowl Harbhajan out resulted in three key wickets - Kohli, De Villiers and Ali, apart from IPL debutant Shimron Hetmyer's run-out which also came in the same over. He did the same with Chahar from the other end before giving Jadeja and Tahir full four-over spells, banking on them to finish off the visitors before bringing on the fast bowlers in the death overs as a contingency plan.
But, the fast bowlers weren't really needed as Tahir and Jadeja ran through RCB's middle-order like knife on butter. While Tahir struck in his first over to get rid of Shivam Dube, Jadeja followed in the South African's footsteps by sending Colin de Grandhomme packing in the 11th over.
Smelling blood, Tahir got excited when his googly trapped Navdeep Saini right in the front. The on-field umpire had initially ruled the RCB batsman not out, but a DRS review for the LBW eventually led to the batsman getting the marching orders for caught behind - something only Dhoni can pull off. While the replays showed Saini getting struck outside the line of the off stump, it also highlighted a faint inside edge that had eventually lobbed towards Shane Watson at first slip.
Tahir made Yuzvendra Chahal his third victim of the night after getting him out caught at deep square leg in the 14th over. The next over saw Jadeja getting excited for a potential LBW and, despite knowing the outcome, Dhoni, just to prove Jaddu wrong, called for a review. The replays showed Dhoni telling the bowler what he thought of the appeal and the result was exactly what the 'DRS king' had predicted: not out.
After being embarrassed on the giant screen, Jadeja, eventually, got his second wicket after rattling Umesh Yadav's off stump in the 17th over. The services of Dwayne Bravo were finally used in the 18th over (for just one ball to be precise) where he dismissed lone warrior Parthiv Patel to help CSK bowl RCB out for a mere 70 runs - the sixth-lowest total in tournament's history.
At the end of it all, Dhoni's spin-heavy attack had resulted in impressive bowling figures of Harbhajan (3-20), Tahir (3-9) and Jadeja (2-15). A total of eight wickets fell to the CSK spinners - the joint-most in the IPL. Chennai ended up equalling their own record. Their spinners had taken eight wickets against now-defunct Deccan Chargers in 2012.
While Harbhajan was eventually adjudged the 'Man of the Match' - his first in four years, it was undeniably Dhoni the tactician whose masterstrokes ensured Chennai remained unbeaten at Chepauk against Kohli-led RCB in over a decade.