IPL: What does Dhoni, 42, still bring to the table for Chennai Super Kings?

The decorated Indian captain’s contribution in his farewell season goes beyond just runs or catches

Mahendra Singh Dhoni during an IPL match (photo: BCCI)
Mahendra Singh Dhoni during an IPL match (photo: BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It takes a Mahendra Singh Dhoni to underscore his value for the franchise with the X-factor that goes beyond just scoring runs or effecting spectacular catches or stumpings. Just ponder this: in six matches of IPL 2024 so far, he has scored barely 59 runs while last season, his contribution with the bat was 104 from 16 matches as Chennai Super Kings went on to clinch their fifth title.

Ever since announcing his international retirement in 2020, the Thala has only crossed the 200 mark in a season only once but then, who cares?  He is one of a kind in the ecosystem of ruthless IPL franchises where his word is very much the law as he almost picks and chooses his moments to deliver – be it handing over the captaincy to Ruturaj Gaikwad at the eleventh hour, delivering a sucker punch with 20 off six balls against Mumbai Indians – or bringing off the odd great catch with a failing knee.

Even a few years back, there was a muted criticism that the decorated Indian captain holds himself back so late in the batting order unnecessarily – but he does not really care. He is on borrowed time in this edition of IPL after having been already been accorded a phenomenal send-off last year, while an ornamental position will be waiting for him in the dugout from 2025.      

Now 42, Dhoni is well aware of the sense of aura that he creates around him – so much so that experienced Indian players are seen inevitably forming a huddle around him after each game to latch on to his words. The words of Mumbai Indians skipper Hardik Pandya after losing Sunday’s game to the Yellove were no less significant: ‘’CSK bowled pretty well and Pathirana was the difference. They were smart with their plans and used the longer boundary well. They got the hang of it and they have a man behind the stumps telling them what’s working.’’

 No prizes for guessing that while Ruturaj has looked reasonably composed in his job so far, the arms around his shoulder of one of the most astute brains of the game have been making his job easy.

 Meanwhile, the CSK bowling consultant Eric Simmons revealed after their win how Dhoni is still the ‘batting template’ for Chennai Super Kings’ death bowling. A former fast bowling coach of the Indian national team, the South African revealed that strategies that succeed against him in training sessions tend to work out fine in match situations as well.  

 ‘’They’re looking at restricting us to under 200 and then they’re suddenly facing 206 with an over like that. Every time — we live close to him — he continues to amaze us. To go out there and hit the first ball like that for six and then continue the way he does. But he has been batting exceptionally well in the nets...just another unbelievable MS Dhoni moment,’’ Simmons said.

‘’His calmness at the wicket… we use him as a batting template when we’re bowling at the death, the pre-season because he’s so good at it. If we can test out our theories against him, then we know we’re going to do well,’’ he said.

Simmons, however, threw a peek into how Dhoni had been struggling with his knee injury and said he has battled it while not showing any pain. ‘’Everyone else is more interested in his injuries than he is. He’s one of the hardest men I’ve ever come across. I don’t even think we know to what extent he may or may not be in pain. He just carries on and does his thing,’’ he said.

Talk about the importance of MSD for Chennai, and you have got the answer!

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