The Chennai Super Kings (CSK) players' average age: 30.2 years. The Mumbai Indians (MI) players' average age: 28.3 years. The average age difference was barely two years but it seemed more like Daddy's Army vs Pappu's Paltan. And while Michael Hussey (nearly 40) was instrumental in getting CSK across the line in the eliminator against the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), by the time he opened in only his fourth innings this season, doubt if there were any realistic expectations of him to go at over 10 runs per over. With Brendon McCullum back on national duty, CSK appeared to be AWOL. Unlike that impulsive Kings XI Punjab bunch that tends to dismantle rather quickly, CSK's chase was akin to a slow bleed - it was painful viewing, an innings lost in its sole mission to somehow drag the game to the 20th over.
No outrageously mistimed heaves floating between four fielders within the 30 yard circle, it was more about settling in, to suck the joy out of the contest, to rob us of the perverse pleasure of watching the mighty CSK explode. By the time Dhoni walked in at the fall of Dwayne Smith's wicket, it was clear, any chase would be led by an off-colour Suresh Raina, and to a lesser extent, by the new kid Pawan Negi. CSK didn't just seem old, it appeared bored, and far too rooted in the reality of an impossible chase.
Topping the table with this jaded bunch is even more incredible - it shows that CSK even when it's far from its best, pulls through as it has mastered the waiting game, which is pretty much Dhoni's calling in cricket. Add South Africa's T20 skipper, Faf du Plessis, old fox, Michael Hussey and jumping veteran, Dwayne Bravo, and you have hardened pros who can suck out the stress of a tricky chase. The chase on Sunday was far from tricky, it was all or nothing - yet CSK was hell-bent on playing it its way and lost without letting out a whimper.
Through the World Cup and this IPL, Dhoni has indulged Ravindra Jadeja. Even in jest the "Sir" doesn't rest easily on him anymore. He rarely bowled his full quota, batted lower than Negi and seemed inadequate when he came in. In spite of this, he made the ODI squad for Bangladesh, as the selectors did not want to tinker with the World Cup squad that made the semi finals. So what will Jadeja's role in Bangladesh be - a swift 12th man who'll fill in for a tired batsman?
Away from the immediacy of T20, in Bangladesh, Dhoni will look to slide back into his favoured format. His aura is intact, the CSK won a knockout in Ranchi, made the finals, it is still the most successful IPL team, but for how long? The power shift from Chennai has started in earnest.
For Mumbai Indians, it all started with a change at the top: Lendl Simmons for an injured Aaron Finch. Simmons' scores: 5, 59, 15, 51, 38, 71, 0, 38, 68* 14, 48, 65, 68. Add to that a starring role in the best bits this edition: the catching. Simmons was flying at point like an animated bunny on speed. Simmons was where the turnaround started in Bangalore on April 19: 59 (44), Simmons was where the job was finished in Kolkata on May 24: 68(45). It was his knocks on both occasions that allowed Rohit Sharma to go bonkers, with 42 (15) and 50 (26) and as we're often informed, "lead from the front".
In spite of all his runs and catches, Simmons tends to go unnoticed, there's none of that flash that comes with his West Indies' mates, Pollard, Bravo or Russell. He's almost quiet, nerdy in his approach, even when he hits them big. Mumbai Indians have done well to go with players like Simmons and Rayudu - one sets it up, the other closes it, almost incognito, while the opposition works away on Rohit and Pollard.
Not long ago, Dhoni farmed the strike in a stiff chase, preferring to trust himself than share the burden with Rayudu. Perhaps it's time for Dhoni to recalibrate some of his thinking on whom to trust and whom to relieve. Team India doesn't have to be a reflection of Team CSK. More than that, it can't afford to anymore.
First published here