At the first ever IPL auction of 2008, the 2007 T20 World Cup winning captain grabbed headlines as the most expensive buy at just over Rs 6 Crore. From 2008 to 2023, as well as the salary he earns from CSK, his contributions with a bat and gloves, his stature in the team and league, his image, the value of his brand and the respect he inspires have increased exponentially. And rightly so.
The sight of someone of Sunil Gavaskar’s stature running for Mahi’s autograph on his shirt speaks volumes about how highly regarded MSD is – by juniors, peers and seniors alike. The fact that fans in stadiums across the country are chanting “Dhoni, Dhoni” more than their own team name is proof enough that if there is one Indian cricketer who has managed to capture the imagination and to win the hearts of fans, just like Sachin Tendulkar did. , it’s MS Dhoni. And he managed to do it in his own unpretentious style.
As Hardik Pandya recently said – “You must be a real devil to hate MS Dhoni.”
Talk of this season being Dhoni’s final IPL rodeo has been around for a while now. The question is: will this really be his swan song?
The thing is, Dhoni is more than just a captain and player in the CSK setup. Imagine any other player who isn’t really able to bat higher up the order or run as fast as he once could between the wickets while still being part of the playing eleven. It’s not because the fans want to see him on the pitch. This is because CSK is not really CSK without Dhoni in its ranks. It won’t be like this forever, but the franchise and the captain himself know exactly what his presence on the pitch brings to the table and how valuable that is.
The fact is also that Dhoni is 41 years old. He will be 42 in just over a month (July 7, 2023). The mind may be as sharp as ever, but the body is not.
We were told earlier this season that Dhoni suffered from a knee problem. Despite this, he continued to play, opting to drop lower in the batting order so he didn’t need to face spinners against whom he might have to stretch his legs to play shots. . He opted to hit in the death overs, trying to tonk the ball off the bat. In most matches, there were hardly any balls left to contend with by the time he entered. He’s batted in 11 innings this season, scoring 104 runs. The strike rate, however, has been 186. So far this season, he has only faced 56 deliveries.
When Dhoni and the CSK team took a victory lap at Chepauk recently, he had an ice pack strapped to his left knee. Running between the wickets was not easy for him. He knows that continuing to play hard is not going to be easy. And there is no sportsman worthy of the name who would want to continue playing endlessly knowing that he cannot give 100%. And yet, Dhoni himself hasn’t decided if this will be his last IPL season. Or at least that’s what the statements seem to suggest.
After Qualifying 1, in which CSK beat defending champions GT to enter their 10th IPL final, Dhoni was asked about his future at CSK and he responded by saying, “I don’t know. Why take this headache now? I have plenty of time to decide. The auction (mini auction) is in December.”
So, should Dhoni continue to keep the reins of CSK in his hands, for at least one more season? Yes, he should. And it’s not an emotional response.
Change is inevitable. It is, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, the only constant. CSK are bound to have a new captain one day, MS Dhoni will retire from the league just like they did from international cricket and life will go on. But what the tacticians behind the scenes including Dhoni have to decide is – does the team need him to hand over to the new skipper, while teaching the new captain the finer nuances of the captaincy of one of T20 cricket’s most successful franchises – like only Dhoni can?
(Sunil Gavaskar taking MS Dhoni’s autograph on his shirt – Photo: CSK Twitter)
The transition was well and truly in place last season when Dhoni decided to step down as CSK skipper and hand over the captaincy to Ravindra Jadeja. The thought process behind this decision was absolutely fair. Dhoni would stay on as a player (presumably for a season) while guiding the new skipper as he found his feet. There are of course many in the CSK camp, including Jadeja, who have seen Dhoni operate up close. But seeing is one thing, imitating is another.
Jadeja’s experiment didn’t work. His own form with the bat soaked and inexplicably he was even seen making catches! Cut to Jadeja handing over to Dhoni, who took over after just 8 games. Reports that Jadeja and the franchise weren’t on the best of terms, with the all-rounder not in contact with CSK at all after the 2022 season and wanting out continued to make headlines, as did reports that which Dhoni would mediate and settle all differences. , which saw Jadeja don the CSK yellow again. The four-time champions had a torrid season last year, finishing 9th out of 10 teams, just one season after winning their 4th title.
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This is of course all water under the bridge now, but the takeaway is that the process that was chosen was the right one, even if the result was not what Dhoni and the frankness expected. Choose the future leader, be there for at least one season to follow his progress before lowering the curtain.
And so the questions remain – did Dhoni and Stephen Fleming have a discussion about whether they should stick to the same transition strategy or change it? Is Jadeja being considered again or is it someone younger?
It’s no secret that CSK’s DNA contains Dhoni firmly entrenched. From seniors to juniors, everyone knows what the captain looks like and what he wants. Like Dhoni’s standing instruction to all players to keep their eyes on him because he likes to change pitches often or the team mantra – eliminate mistakes and chances of winning increase or the permanent philosophy – all Players will be assigned specific roles and will be supported to the hilt, that there will be minimal hash and change.
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Every time the leadership change happens it will usher in a new era of course, but what the team would really like is for things to change as little as possible. Not only because this is a franchise that has never been in favor of too much change, but also because if substantial remnants of the old legacy remain, it’s easier for everyone to continue making what he does best. And for that to happen, Dhoni has to be there to oversee things. He is after all not like most other IPL team captains. Of the older teams, perhaps only Mumbai Indians and Rohit Sharma come close to the symbiosis that exists between Dhoni and CSK.
No new CSK captain has been announced ahead of the current season. There has of course been talk of Ruturaj Gaikwad being seen as a long-term prospect, but that’s all it is so far – speculation.
As things stand, CSK are in their 10th IPL final. Dhoni and co. are one win away from claiming a record tying 5th IPL title. For many, it would be the best farewell possible.
But for the sake of the franchise and the league, it might be best for the team to announce a new captain before IPL 2024 and for Dhoni to stay on as a player to oversee a smooth transition before finally leaving for the sunset. And in Dhoni’s own words, maybe that’s what he’s thinking too – “There’s plenty of time, why take this headache now?”