MUMBAI: All lovers of the Indian Premier League were happy to see MS Dhoni back on a cricket field after 437 days as he skippered Chennai Super Kings in the first game of the T20 league against defending champions Mumbai Indians at the Zayed Stadium, in Abu Dhabi, on Saturday.
There was also a fair degree of astonishment at the bulk that Dhoni has put on. Extra work in the gym during lockdown has obviously given him strength in his limbs, but he has always been known for the strength of his mind.

Using sound tactics and wonderful rotation of bowlers and right field placements on a big ground, the CSK skipper helped his team fight back as Mumbai Indians, after racing away to 45 for no loss in four overs after being put into bat, limped their way to 162 for 9.

In reply, CSK relied on two players who are not spectacular, but are mighty effective and understand the grammar of pacing an innings in tough situations. Ambati Rayudu 71 (48 balls, 6×4, 3×6) and Faf du Plessis may not have the big shots. They do not have bulging muscles. They do not play with bazooka bats. But ask them to hit a gap, they will do it. Ask them to use their feet to spin and move the ball around and hit the occasional boundary, they will do that too.
The pair showed all those attributes and did the job that Suresh Raina normally does for CSK and helped them recover from the twin blows of losing openers Shane Watson and Murali Vijay to MI’s new signings Trent Boult and James Pattinson to add 115 for the third wicket.
Dhoni then promoted the young Sam Curran ahead of himself and the move worked like a charm as Curran smashed a quickfire 18 off six balls to take them home with four balls and five wickets remaining.
MI last won the first match of the IPL in 2012. Ironically, it was CSK who they beat at the Chepauk.
Spin, so often Dhoni and CSK’s trusted friend, on the slow and low pitches at Chepauk, helped them in the Emirates too as the impressive Piyush Chawla struck by getting rid off MI skipper Rohit Sharma caught by Curran at mid-off and then applied the choke. It was the 10th time in three editions that Rohit had fallen to leg-spin. Dhoni then changed the end of Curran, who made a smooth graduation from being a Kings player to a Super Kings one and dismissed the dangerous Quinton de Kock.
Once the openers were gone, Dhoni was in control as most MI players were guilty of thinking that they were playing on a smallish field at Wankhede and kept getting caught at the boundary attempting big hits. Du Plessis, at long on and long off, pouched some wonderful catches, two off them in one over off Ravindra Jadeja to dismiss Saurabh Tiwary and Hardik Pandya were a treat.
When Dhoni backs a player, he backs him completely and South African pacer Lungi Ngidi is one of them. Despite Ngidi going for plenty in his first two overs, Dhoni made him switch ends, asked him to drag his length back and reaped rewards as the South African ended with 3/38.
From a position where MI could have scored 180-plus, they lost 6-41 in the last six overs to end way short. The collapse was as stunning as the dive that the CSK captain put in to send Krunal Pandya back after gloving a short one from Ngidi.
He and CSK are back.