After a long send-off, Dhoni still keeps the plot alive

For a country like India besotted with its cricketing superheroes, objectivity often takes a backseat as the fans want them to carry on forever

M.S Dhoni (photo courtesy @CricCrazyJohns/Twitter)
M.S Dhoni (photo courtesy @CricCrazyJohns/Twitter)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s the morning after. The IPL 2023 final was the first one which was played on the reserve day and eventually spilled over to a third day with M.S Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings having the last laugh over Gujarat Titans in a tense final befitting of its billing.

It, however, failed to answer the riddle about the future of India’s most decorated captain in the IPL. After enjoying a countrywide rollercoaster of emotions over the last two months in what was being perceived as a certain last season for ‘MSD’ as a player, Dhoni left it open-ended by saying he was ready to give it a go for one last time next year — if the body permits — and that would be his ‘gift’ to his legion of fans.

Is it an afterthought on the big man’s part, who betrayed a rare sign of emotion after being dismissed for nought in what is deemed to be his last IPL innings? Professional sport, as is often said, does not guarantee a fairlytale ending and on that score, Dhoni would be grateful to his teammates for offsetting a sloppy day in bowling with a courageous chase to help him lift a  record-equalling fifth title.

Any decision to continue, now with the impact player’s rule also reducing the workload on somebody who would be 42 next year, is certainly his call. The CSK management will be only too happy to have him around as a player in 2024 as it would be the last year of a three-year cycle of auction – though one cannot help but get the feeling that  even his legion of fans is now emotionally exhausted after the two-month long send-off at almost all venues.

For a country like India besotted with its cricketing superheroes, objectivity often takes a backseat as the fans want them to carry on forever. While the TV pundits kept eulogising Dhoni on his occasional quicksilver reflexes in stumping (remember the one last night to get rid of dangerman Shubman Gill?) or the razor sharp captaincy, it was Kapil Dev who struck a rare, pragmatic note ahead of the final.

‘’He has been playing IPL for 15 years. Why is it that we are only talking about Dhoni? He has done his work. What more do you want from him? Do you want him to play all his life? That is not going to happen,’’ a plain-speaking Kapil said on the eve of the final. Sunil Gavaskar, the other reigning deity of Indian cricket, scripted one of the most poignant moments of this IPL when he ran to Dhoni to get an autograph on his shirt when CSK was doing a lap of honour in Chennai.

There are still six odd months to go for the mini-auction and in Dhoni’s own words, ‘another eight-nine months’ before the next season. It gives Thala enough time to assess his own body and take a call, but there is also a perception that it also helps his franchise to leverage it’s brand value more effectively for some more time with Dhoni as the leader.

Interestingly enough, Dhoni said in a post-match chat only a few days back that he would be associated with CSK in the future — irrespective of capacity. Knowing him, it could be a cryptic tweet from him sometime in the next few months to announce that he is done as a player.

A poll among the fans on whether they want him in the middle again or the CSK dugout next year will be interesting!  

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