Perhaps a tarot card reader could provide an insight into Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s mind. Or not.
None, not even mentor and godfather N. Srinivasan, has any clue about the Chennai Super Kings captain’s plans. Be it giving up the Test or limited-overs captaincy or quitting international cricket, Dhoni is known to keep the world guessing and springing surprises.
His teammates never got an inkling of his retirement plans in the middle of a Test series in Australia on December 30, 2014. He then drew the curtains on a 15-year international career on August 15, 2020, with an Instagram video captioned, “Thanks a lot for your love and support throughout. From 1929 hrs consider me as Retired”.
The silence that reigns over Dhoni’s future at CSK is deafening. Not many are willing to discuss the imminent, leave alone speculate on his swansong. If possible, they would have wished their Thala, as Dhoni is affectionately called in respect for his leadership skills, to continue eternally.
Dhoni turns 42 in July but his fitness and reflexes still match the youngest in the business. His effortless sixes at nets in the lead-up to the 16th edition of the IPL or the show of nonchalance following a big hit always portrays that he hasn’t still lost his swagger.
Given Dhoni’s enduring legacy and brand value, CSK too would want him to continue. But like most things it has to end. Last season, Dhoni had spelt out his plans of ending his playing career in Chennai.
“It will be unfair to not play in Chennai and say thank you... Hopefully, we’ll come to Chennai and will play my last game over there and I can meet all my fans,” Dhoni had said last year when the IPL’s group stage games were held in Mumbai and Pune and the knockout matches at Eden Gardens and Ahmedabad.
The CSK’s final home match this season at the Chepauk is against Kolkata Knight Riders on May 14. The playoff venues are yet to be named. The buzz is that Dhoni, depending on CSK’s progress in the tournament, might make an announcement towards the closing stages. But since it’s Dhoni, hazarding a guess is risky. He hasn’t made known his plans yet to the management since the focus has been on the preparation.
CSK had a tough run last year, failing to make the playoffs for only the second time in the tournament’s history. Dhoni relinquished captaincy just two days before IPL 2022 started. However, he returned to the hot seat midway into the tournament after Ravindra Jadeja, who struggled to get going as skipper, handed over the leadership duties back to the talisman.
The fans will hope for a better performance this time given that the players will get to perform in front of the home crowd after three seasons. And, who better than Dhoni to steer the ship in the right direction?
Captain Cool hasn’t been in prime form since 2020. He has lacked consistency with the bat, which has also impacted his strike rate. A stupendous season could be the perfect opportunity for him to bow out.
Also, Dhoni is worth Rs 12 crore as CSK’s No.2 player in the retention list after Jadeja. His stepping away would significantly enhance the team purse and enable the franchise to invest in players who could be the flag-bearers for the future.
Srinivasan had recently said that Dhoni would always be “part and parcel” of not just the franchise, but also the city of Chennai. “There is no CSK without Dhoni and there is no Dhoni without CSK,” Srinivasan has said. Under Dhoni’s leadership, CSK have won the IPL four times and have been runners-up thrice. They have also made the playoffs in 11 of 13 seasons.
Not without reason had Srinivasan issued a firm diktat in 2008: “At any price, I wanted MS Dhoni,” he had told his team at the auction table.
Dhoni’s captaincy mantra has been simple — unflappable, calm in the face of adversity, able to handle pressure and man management skills.
Batting legend Sunil Gavaskar has been awestruck by Dhoni.
“I think when CSK returned and won the IPL trophy(2018), it was absolutely amazing because the team had not been together for two years and they had moved out with different franchises and suddenly they came back again.
That tells you leadership. That tells you how the man could get a team together again after that gap,” Gavaskar said on a show hosted by the official broadcasters.
Not one to bask in fanfare, Dhoni would want to go out without leaving a hint of his departure. Perhaps a statement will come when least expected, giving no opportunity to make the occasion memorable. Everyone knows it’s coming but with Dhoni, it’s all about the timing.