MS Dhoni, the Chennai Super Kings captain, has said his side is "hurting" after they suffered their eighth defeat in 11 games to be rooted to the bottom of the points table. After the Super Kings laboured to 30 for 6 and then 114 for 9 in their 20 overs, the defending champions Mumbai Indians mowed down the target within 13 overs, handing the Super Kings their first ten-wicket defeat in the IPL, in Sharjah.
"Well, it does hurt and what you need to see is what are the things that are going wrong," Dhoni told host broadcaster Star Sports at the post-match presentation. "And especially this year hasn't really been our year and everything apart from one or two games where we have batted and bowled well together and fielded well together…So, at the end of the day, whether you lose by eight wickets or ten wickets it hardly matters. Where we are in the state of the tournament, it will definitely hurt and I think all the players are hurting and they're trying their best. It doesn't always go your way, but hopefully in the next three games, we will try to maybe put our last stand."
Since their five-wicket win against Mumbai in the season opener in Abu Dhabi, the Super Kings haven't clicked in unison, lurching from one loss to another. Injuries haven't helped them either. Their key middle-order batsman Ambati Rayudu sustained a hamstring strain in that Mumbai match in which he scored a 48-ball 71, and although he returned to action after missing two games, he hasn't been as fluent as he was in the opener. Then, in a crucial clash against the Delhi Capitals, their designated death bowler Dwayne Bravo wasn't available to bowl the final over because of a groin injury.
After Bravo was subsequently sidelined from the rest of the IPL, the Super Kings rejigged their side in the return fixture against Mumbai on Friday, giving Imran Tahir his first game of the tournament and also including rookies Ruturaj Gaikwad and N Jagadeesan. While both batsmen bagged ducks in a top-order collapse induced by Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah, Tahir went wicketless, as did the rest of the Super Kings bowlers. Dhoni put down the Super Kings' sharp decline to a combination of such factors.
"Again, what you need to see is where you again went wrong," Dhoni said. "I felt the second game [against the Rajasthan Royals] was more about the bowling; batting wasn't turning up, and Rayudu got injured. Some of the other players got a chance and maybe they were not there 200% or maybe they were not able to perform. It just kept on putting pressure on the batting order and whenever we never got off to a good start, it became more and more difficult for the middle order.
"In cricket, when you're going through a tough phase, there are a few things that need to go your way - a bit of luck is always good and I felt in this tournament it hasn't really gone our way. The games where we wanted to bat first ,we haven't really won the toss and in games batting second, the wicket has slowed down or there may be dew. All of [a] sudden, then we decide to bat first and there's a lot of dew on the field. If things have not gone your way, those are the things that you study and see what you can provide the players for them to perform."
When asked if not playing at their home ground at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, where Dhoni usually controls the game with his spinners on turning tracks, had crippled them, Dhoni reiterated that there could be a "hundred reasons" for their struggles in the UAE.
"Whenever you're not doing well, there can be hundred reasons, especially if you sit and pick up the reasons as to why we're not doing well. But, the main thing you ask yourself or as a team is whether you're playing to the potential that you've got. Like, say, whatever the conditions may be, when you put up a playing XI that looks good on paper, have they done enough to translating that good stats that they've got onto the field? I think this year, we've not done that and cumulatively when three or four of your batsmen aren't doing well in the batting order, it becomes more and more difficult."
The Super Kings can still mathematically sneak into the playoffs, but Dhoni was pragmatic, shifting his focus towards identifying players for IPL 2021, which might be played from next April.
"It is important for us have a clear picture about next year," he said. "There are a lot of ifs and buts: the kind of auction we are looking into next year, where the venues will be. It is always good to give guys who have not so far got enough chances to form a settled playing XI. You give them enough chances to really give them a platform where they can perform and show their talent."
New Zealand spin-bowling allrounder Mitchell Santner and local bowlers KM Asif and R Sai Kishore who haven't got a game so far this season are likely to be tested out in the Super Kings' last three fixtures this season.
"So the coming three games will be an ideal opportunity," Dhoni said. "We have to make the most of it because you don't really want to be in a situation like that, but once you are what's the most that you can get? And it is preparation for the next year."