Mahendra Singh Dhoni might have signed off from international cricket, but Chennai’s beloved Thala will be at the heart of the action in the Indian Premier League (IPL). For him, the IPL has been a perfect platform to showcase his leadership and Super Kings will bank on his brains and instinct to go all the way again.
Dhoni, who has led the Chennai Super Kings to three titles and five runner-up finishes in the IPL’s 12 editions, will feature in the opening match on Saturday against the Mumbai Indians, the defending champions, which in many ways may embark his final hurrah.
After much speculation, the inspirational former captain announced the end of his 16-year international career last month.
So without the responsibility of having to play well to keep in place in the national team, we could yet again witness the flamboyant skipper at his best in UAE, the IPL’s temporary home turf.
It is to be noted that Dhoni will be returning to playing competitive cricket for the first time since India’s painful exit in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. He has been practising hard for Chennai Super Kings in IPL 2020 and is looking in great shape in the net sessions.
Dhoni is Mr CSK
When Suresh Raina pulled out of IPL 2020 due to personal reasons, it was a big blow to Chennai Super Kings. After all, ‘Chinna Thala’ as Raina is known, has been an integral part of their success. One of the few left-handers in the line-up and a player who has earned the trust of charge d’affaires Dhoni. If a team loses two experienced players just before the start of the season, it would generally induce some panic. But the manner in which CSK seems to have handled the mini-crisis so far is mainly due to two things: experience and Dhoni.
They have a name in media for CSK: Daddy team-The experienced veterans in the CSK squad know what it is like to be in such a situation. They have all seen last-minute pullouts due to injury or other issues and as a result, they all almost instinctively realise they need to get on with the game.
Over the years, we’ve seen Dhoni make the most of the talent at his disposal. So much so that many of these unheralded players have gone on to play for India (even if briefly) after making their mark in CSK colours.
Dhoni hints at final hurrah
Considered one of the greatest finishers ever in white-ball cricket, Dhoni is most certainly expected to make this IPL his last.
With just a day left for the first match of IPL 2020 against arch-rivals Mumbai Indians, it will be interesting to see just how CSK will surprise their opponents. It will be a different season for many reasons but in some ways, Dhoni will strive to keep it by his playbook.
With Suresh Raina missing at No 3, Dhoni should bat higher up the order so that he can get into a rhythm and drive the innings forward.
Make no mistake, MS Dhoni’s wicketkeeping skills are still the best in the world by a distance; his love with the DRS blossomed with every passing game and his tactics from behind the stumps have been top-notch. But over the last few years, it was MS Dhoni the batsman that had taken world cricket by storm over the years, mellowed down by his high-standards.
As far as Dhoni’s captaincy record is concerned, the 39-year-old has won the most number of IPL matches as a captain and led the team to title three times — in 2010, 2011 and 2018 – while boasting a win percentage of 60.31. He has also led the team to a whopping 7 finals in the 10 seasons he has been their skipper.
Our customary pre-season dinner turned into a memorable lunch this time and our Lions walked away with some Super Duper Awards.#Thala Dhoni for leading the team with the willow and scoring the most runs for the Super Kings in IPL 2019. 🦁💛 pic.twitter.com/aWwErJgyvV
— Chennai Super Kings (@ChennaiIPL) September 17, 2020
There will always be a school of thought, wondering if Dhoni had pinned down T20 World Cup to be his swansong. Prepping for the IPL, and then moving ahead with his form and fitness, Dhoni probably would’ve aspired to be on the plane to Australia. However, the Coronavirus has put a spanner to works as the plan went awry.
Just like in December 2014, when he inconspicuously announced Test retirement, Dhoni was always going to walk away when we least expected it. And he did, right before an impending IPL season.
The common thread in the three big decisions is the element of surprise with his timing, so just in the same vein-IPL 2020 could well be Dhoni’s last ride with his beloved Chennai Super Kings.
The build-up has been bumpy, but if Dhoni shakes off the rust swiftly, things could end on a high for Mahi!