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On the surface, MS Dhoni's Chennai pitch criticism is strange: IPL 2019 talking points

Here are five points of discussion on the Indian Premier League which one-third of the way in

Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni is unhappy with the pitch at Chepauk in Chennai. R Parthibhan / AP Photo
Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni is unhappy with the pitch at Chepauk in Chennai. R Parthibhan / AP Photo

Dhoni’s puzzling pitch for featherbed

MS Dhoni has once again come down hard on MA Chidambaram Stadium's pitch curators, describing the playing surface there as unfit for batting.

“I don't think we want to be playing on these tracks. It becomes too low scoring,” he said after his Chennai Super Kings side beat Kolkata Knight Riders by seven wickets on Tuesday, which suggests either something is getting lost in translation at Chennai’s historic venue, or this is a ruse of some kind.

If Indian Premier League franchises are to expect home conditions to favour them, then the curators at ‘Chepauk’ – as the stadium locality is called – are doing a splendid job. The spin-friendly wicket may not favour batsmen, but it aids Chennai’s spin attack. It is one of the reasons why Harbhajan Singh, Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja have 21 wickets between them this season. Conveniently, Chennai have now won 16 of their last 17 matches at home.

Yet, Dhoni has criticised the pitch like he did after the opening game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, which they also won in a canter.

This could either mean the Chennai captain’s obvious appeal for batting pitches is falling on deaf ears, or he is trying to make it seem like they are winning matches despite not getting what they want (although it makes little sense as to why he would do that).

There is a third scenario, of course: that Dhoni does not mind spin-friendly wickets so long as they offer something for batsmen given the saleability of Twenty20 cricket rests on the foundation of quick runs and spectacular strokeplay.

Medium-pacer Deepak Chahar, second from right, could be one to watch out for. R Parthibhan / AP Photo
Medium-pacer Deepak Chahar, second from right, could be one to watch out for. R Parthibhan / AP Photo

Chahar cousins gaining attention

Tales of brothers and sisters playing the same sport, and possibly for the same team, usually make for good reading. The Waugh twins, Steve and Mark, are the most celebrated examples in cricket.

For India, the Amarnath brothers – Surinder and Mohinder – enjoyed contrasting fortunes. More recently, the careers of Yusuf and Irfan Pathan had very little overlap. These days, the spotlight is firmly on Krunal and Hardik Pandya, with both players representing India’s as well as Mumbai Indians’ Twenty20 teams.

There is another duo on the rise, as fans will have observed over the past week: cousins Deepak and Rahul Chahar. Teammates for their state Rajasthan, they are however playing key roles for different IPL franchises – Deepak for Chennai and Rahul for Mumbai.

Deepak, 26, bowls medium pace – one of many relatively-unknown seamers Chennai have brought to the limelight over the years – while Rahul, seven years younger, is a leg-spinner.

Deepak has done an exceedingly good job in the PowerPlay overs, while Rahul has so far succeeded in keeping Mayank Markande, the other leggie in the side, out of the first XI. In the process, they are also justifying their price tags – Deepak went for eight million rupees (Dh425,000) and Rahul for Rs19m.

With the former having played one ODI for India, the question now is whether Rahul can follow suit.

Kings XI Punjab batsman Sarfaraz Khan is making significant progress as a player. Surjeet Yadav / AP Photo
Kings XI Punjab batsman Sarfaraz Khan is making significant progress as a player. Surjeet Yadav / AP Photo

Sarfaraz in running again?

At 21 years old, Sarfaraz Khan has already endured a somewhat chequered career.

That he had excellent hand-eye coordination and the power to give the ball a good whack was obvious even before he scored 211 runs in six games at the Under World Cup held in the UAE five years ago. Sarfaraz had, by the age of 12, broken the record for the highest score in the Harris Shield inter-school tournament in Mumbai, smashing 439 for Rizvi Springfield in an innings that featured 12 sixes and 56 boundaries.

Aside from the fact he was once suspended for allegedly fudging his age, his challenge was to succeed despite his size. He did this to some extent while playing for the Mumbai state team before being snapped up by Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2015.

His career, though, stagnated due to injury and he swapped states and franchises recently. A move from Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh and a subsequent shift from RCB to Kings XI Punjab have helped thus far.

Having clearly worked on his fitness, not only does he find himself in the top 15 in the IPL run charts this season, he has also run 63 singles (tallied before Wednesday night’s game). This puts him in sixth place in a list that includes David Warner, Virat Kohli, Lokesh Rahul, Shreyas Iyer and Steve Smith.

Thereby Sarfaraz has shown the willingness and ability to diversify his game and tell the world he is no longer a one-trick pony. More improvement can be expected from him in the years to come.

Rajasthan Royals batsman Jos Buttler was left furious after being 'Mankaded' by Ravichandran Ashwin. AFP
Rajasthan Royals batsman Jos Buttler was left furious after being 'Mankaded' by Ravichandran Ashwin. AFP

Buttler draws line on Mankading controversy

Jos Buttler may have spent some time reflecting on his controversial dismissal by Punjab captain Ravichandran Ashwin last month.

The Rajasthan Royals batsman was evidently furious after being ‘Mankaded’ by Ashwin at a time in the game when his team needed him the most. Indeed, his dismissal sparked a batting collapse that eventually led to Rajasthan's defeat.

Over the next few days, the argument over the ethical nature of this mode of dismissal played out on social media.

Buttler, however, provided a reasonable analysis later when he told ESPNcricinfo: "Of course, 'Mankading' has to be in the laws of the game, because a batsman can't just run halfway down the pitch trying to get a headstart."

But he made a relevant point about the wording of the law. "I do think, the way the law is written, there is a bit of a grey area in that saying 'when a bowler is expected to release the ball'. That is a bit of a wishy-washy statement," he said.

Buttler, who declared having moved on from the incident, said he “will make sure it doesn’t happen again”. In other words, he will be mindful of staying inside the crease while at the non-striker's end – a useful discipline to have for someone who has been Mankaded more than once in his career.

Updated: April 11, 2019 05:58 PM

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