MS Dhoni became involved in a controversy during Gujarat Titans’ chase against Chennai Super Kings in the IPL 2023 Qualifier 1.

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Chennai made 172-7 at their home turf in Chepauk. After 15 overs, Gujarat were 102-6. Three of their five bowlers – Deepak Chahar, Maheesh Theekshana, and Ravindra Jadeja – had bowled out their allotted four overs.

Matheesha Pathirana had three overs left and Tushar Deshpande two. Chennai’s most expected sequence would have been Pathirana, Deshpande, Pathirana, Deshpande, Pathirana.

However, Pathirana had been off the ground for – according to the television commentators – nine minutes. For an absence longer than eight minutes, IPL Playing Condition states that “the player shall not be permitted to bowl in the match until he has either been able to field, or his team has subsequently been batting, for the total length of playing time for which the player was absent (hereafter referred to as Penalty time).”

Thus, Pathirana had to spend the time he had spent off the field on it before he could become eligible to bowl. It is not clear when he left or returned, but he had bowled the 12th over and had returned in time for the 16th, and – as per the television commentators – had been away for nine minutes.

As Pathirana prepared to bowl, Anil Chaudhary, the umpire at the bowler’s end, had a word with him. Dhoni, meanwhile, approached square-leg umpire Chris Gaffaney.

According to an ESPNcricinfo report, the umpires told Dhoni that Pathirana had to wait a few more minutes before being eligible to bowl.

According to the report, Dhoni apparently acknowledged the restrictions, but insisted that he had to bowl Pathirana. He was reluctant to use off-spinner Moeen Ali, the only other actual bowling option, against two right-handers.

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By then, the batters – Vijay Shankar and Rashid Khan – had also spoken to the umpires. Moeen, too, had taken his cap off.

As the discussion continued, the umpires reminded Dhoni of the three penalties for time-wasting: having to bowl with an extra fielder inside the 30-yard circle (in case the last over did not begin on time); a monetary penalty; and a runs penalty.

The discussion lingered, drawing comments from Sunil Gavaskar and Harsha Bhogle on air. By the time play resumed, enough time had elapsed to ensure Pathirana had become eligible to bowl again. Chennai did indeed have to bowl their last over with the extra fielder in the ring.

According to Law 41.9, if “either umpire considers that the progress of an over is unnecessarily slow, or time is being wasted in any other way, by the captain of the fielding side or by any other fielder, at the first instance the umpire concerned shall … warn the captain of the fielding side, indicating that this is a first and final warning … If either umpire considers that there is any further waste of time in that innings by any fielder, the umpire concerned shall … if the waste of time is not during an over, award 5 Penalty runs to the batting side and inform the captain of the fielding side of the reason for this action.”

Even if Chennai had been responsible for wasting time – the definition of which is not objective and left to the umpires’ jurisdiction – the worst they could have been hit was a warning to Dhoni, for it would have been their first offence of the match.

Whether the umpires had warned Dhoni is unclear, but it was unlikely to have an impact on the outcome of the match.