Mahendra Singh Dhoni is numb. He didn’t raise his head even as Ravindra Jadeja started running towards the dugout and his canary yellow teammates responded in kind.
Perhaps Dhoni is trying to process everything after a grueling two months. Moeen Ali hugged him and the contours of his face were emotionless. Perhaps there was a storm in his mind during the last six balls and this was the calming effect.
Dhoni has just guided CSK to their fifth IPL trophy in 11 last appearances and he remains unfazed. The job is done, what’s the fuss. He couldn’t contain his wide grin as an overjoyed Jadeja jumped into his lap and hugged the bear.
There were speculations about their relationship deteriorating after Jadeja stepped down as CSK captain midway through the 2022 season, but as they say in Hindi, “anth bhala toh sab bhala” (all’s well that ends well) .
If Dhoni was involved, what really happened will never be known. Because what happens in ‘Dhoniland’ stays in ‘Dhoniland’. Ask any CSK believer, and he will confirm that this is an old concrete jungle saying.
Has the world seen wet eyes? Probably yes. But there won’t be any overt display of emotions. It’s about process and execution with precision. Lots of pluck, and yes, a bit of luck too.
He walked quietly to the field. The unlucky Gujarat Titans bowler Mohit Sharma was patted on the head. He knows what it’s like to come this close but be lost. Remember Old Trafford where he sets it ala Dhoni style. That’s why Dhoni is so special and so relatable. He can associate failures as much as he can with success.
Mohit is someone who learned the ropes of top-flight bowling under Dhoni at CSK before fading into oblivion and then made a grand re-entry in this IPL.
Meanwhile Jadeja was doing a TV interview and dedicated his performance and win to “MS Dhoni”. The Motera stand, which resembles a sunflower, explodes, but is this a sign that the end is near.
The question followed Dhoni from city to city and different people asked him differently. The street-smart player that he is, he always gave a cheeky reply, like one to Danny Morrison where he joked that he is already forcing him to retire, or at a promotional event where he said that any announcement would make things go haywire.
Have we seen the last of him? Maybe or maybe not. Only time will tell how he copes with the damaged knee as he approaches 43.
“If you circumstantially see, it’s the best time to announce the retirement. The easy thing for me to say is thank you and retire. But the hard thing to do is to work hard for nine months and try to play one more IPL season. It’s necessary the body stood up.
“I received a lot of love from CSK fans, it would be a gift for them to play one more season,” Dhoni said before receiving his fifth trophy.
The love of the Chennai fans was unconditional and Chepauk became his amphitheater, and he became the hero as well as the main star for them.
“The way they’ve shown their love and emotion, it’s something I need to do for them. It’s the last part of my career. It started over here and the full house was chanting my name. It’s the same in Chennai, but it will be good come back and play whatever I can,” Dhoni assured all those who braved the rain, changed their itineraries, burned their pockets, and were there to hear him speak past midnight.
So will it be a practical decision or an emotional one if Dhoni, who will be pushing 43 next year, decides to play another season of a grueling two-month tournament? This is easier said than done in professional sport but Dhoni wants to bide his time. On the face of it, it may seem emotional as CSK is not just another team for Dhoni, paying him a fat cheque. It is an emotional investment.
For the next decade, he would take all the decisions in cricket alone and being a quick learner, work with Rupa Gurunath to understand the business of running the franchise as well.
But for those who have seen Dhoni, they know that N Srinivasan, the venerable owner of CSK, was the former Indian captain’s life mentor and he learned one thing from him: if possible, always spare of time, and take it deep, on and off the field.
So if another IPL is just 10 months away and he needs to keep himself cricketing for at least three months in the lead up to the next edition, he will try to do so.
“The kind of cricket I play, they feel they can play that cricket. There’s nothing orthodox about it and I like to keep it simple,” Dhoni said.
As Stephen Fleming pointed out after the match. Dhoni’s training sessions are demand based.
“I can assure you he didn’t do any wicket-keeping practice in the IPL. It was natural. He tried to do a keeping session with Devon Conway, who is an international wicketkeeper, and it was almost funny,” Fleming said.
“Today was phenomenal, the style he does it with is awesome. That stumping is MS Dhoni at his best. It is nature, he learned from tennis-ball cricket and it is just pure skill,” Fleming added.
The impact player rule will give Dhoni the opportunity to keep wickets for 20 overs but not use himself as a batter except on a few occasions.
“Look, he knows, his power-hitting game has been gone for a long time. Like on Monday, he got ahead of Ravindra Jadeja. You could say it’s because of maintaining the left-right combination but even then he took a chance because there were 15 balls left. . .
“If Jadeja had gone ahead of him and got a first-ball duck, Dhoni might not have finished the game,” a former CSK player told PTI when asked what the skipper was thinking.
So will he play next season? “My hunch is that he’s not going to play as a batter anymore. He’s probably going to play a few more games and see if he can run the team from the dugout without being on the field. At that moment, he cracked that code, won him. ‘don’t play anymore. Like if you read Fleming’s words, he’s going to try to fit Devon Conway in that slot,” the former player said.
After all, MSD is CSK and CSK is MSD.