Inside the IPL with Eric Simons – 23rd April 2019

“It is difficult to explain what it feels like sitting in the dugout with the scoreboard reading 24-4 chasing 150-odd as we were against the Rajasthan Royals and still believing that you can win the match. That you will win the match.

Then the same against KKR at 81-4 chasing 161 against a formidable KKR spin attack and then, surely impossible against RCB chasing 162 when we are reduced to 28 for 4 within the power play. To end that match needing two runs off the last ball, having chased 26 off the last over, who would have believed? Somehow the result doesn’t actually matter. What unfolded before was incredible.

It’s fair to say that our opponents know they have not beaten CSK until they have beaten MS Dhoni, and that is very intimidating. I often wonder what goes through his mind as he walks out to thunderous applause and whistles every time he bats, and even louder when his team has its back to the wall.

Does he have doubt in his mind? Does he feel the stress of expectation? Does he think “not again?” How does he personally handle the enormous expectation that the crowd has for him?

I was with Delhi Daredevils for five years and the opponents I least enjoyed playing against were CSK. Not so much because of the team but because at least 50% of the crowd at our home games, were cheering every CSK moment.

Now that I am in the dugout I can really appreciate the extent of the support that the franchise has and how much of that revolves around MSD. He is a truly phenomenal cricketer and his ability to stay calm and ‘in the moment’ is a privilege to witness.

I recall reading the book, ‘Sacred Hoops’, by Phil Jackson who was the legendary head coach of the Chicago Bulls during the time Michael Jordan was sweeping all before him. Early in Michael Jordan’s career Jackson tries to make him understand how to live beyond his own performance and tells Jordan that his greatest Legacy and role within the team will not be his personal statistics, but how great he makes those around him.

There is no doubt that MS’s teammates also believe that their opponents have never beaten CSK until they have beaten MS. Or, more to the point, that while he is at the wicket anything is possible. Even more importantly, his aura lifts those around him to believe more in themselves and never give up because of the example he sets.

As with Jordan, we might never fully understand the influence that MS has had – and still has – on Indian cricketers, in particular those who have played with him. Even though he is a man of few words, he is impossible to ignore. When he speaks it is with the wisdom of logic. I read a statement once which said: “To speak simply you have to think deeply.” That probably sums up so much of MS. He has the ability to apply logic to any situation and bring it down to one simple statement.

I have had the privilege of working with MS for a number of years, first with the Indian national team then with Pune for two IPL tournaments, and now with CSK. To be fair, you don’t so much work with MS as much as you watch him work.

There are many cricketers who have produced one or two match-winning performances and have dined out on those performance for the rest of the lives. Careers defined by one or two significant moments. The match winning performances by MS are so frequent they are almost taken for granted.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am more interested in the person I coach that the cricketer. Its often said that top level cricket, any high level sport I suppose,  is far more a test of character than it is technique. High performance is a fascinating thing to observe and the CSK dugout has got to be one to the best seats in world sport, let alone cricket. Those that operate in the rarified atmosphere of high performance often wonder what all the fuss is about. MS sees the way he plays the game and particularly how he structures a run chase as “common sense” but then hastens to add, “I don’t know why it is called common sense when it is so rare.”

When we watch an artist working it looks natural and even easy. To the artist, it is natural and “common sense.” But we all know that, when we pick up a brush and try to recreate the image it we see, it is anything but easy. So what might seem natural to him, what might seem common sense to him, is anything but natural.

His level of performance, for the average man in the street, is something we can only dream of, and very few can experience.

This tournament has a long way to run yet and my years involved have taught me to take nothing for granted, A team needs to be battled-hardened as we head into the knock out phase in which we are not yet guaranteed a place. Perhaps we needed to lose two in row to make sure there is enough edge in the remaining four league matches. Tonight we play Sunrisers Hyderabad in Chennai with the aggressive David Warner and one of the IPL finds of the tournament’s, which trust me is different from making a name elsewhere, John Bairstow leading the charge. Hopefully we don’t need heroics from anyone but rather that we have a comfortable result to take us into the rest of the week.

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