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Familiar MS Dhoni buzz as champs CSK get ready to go again in IPL

He stamped his class again in 2023, leading Chennai to a record-equalling fifth title. The who after Dhoni question though lingers.

When Chennai Super Kings (CSK) lost eight of their 14 games to finish a lowly seventh in the 2020 IPL held in the UAE, critics saw it as a sign that Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Midas touch was finally deserting him. His answer? At the same venues, in the same conditions, the next season he led CSK to their fourth title.

MS Dhoni practices at the CSK nets(CSK/X)

He had proved critics wrong again. But for how long will he soldier on with an ageing body? At the end of the 2022 edition, it was time again to write the last chapter of his cricket story. After losing 10 games out of 14 to finish second last in the 10-team table, he looked surely done — Ravindra Jadeja was tried as captain before Dhoni took over midway.

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The 40-year-old player’s knee was giving him trouble apart from his back that gives up from time to time. But the famous No.7 just doesn’t cease to surprise. He roared back by leading the yellow brigade to a record-equalling fifth IPL title in 2023.

Now at 42, Dhoni is set to lead CSK in their title defence, starting with a game against Royal Challengers Bangalore on March 22. It’s only natural that the question on everyone’s mind again is whether this will be his last season?

Having defied all odds so far, however, his confidence will be higher than ever. Fitness-wise he will be feeling better after dedicating

himself to rehabilitation to recover from knee surgery. Everyone has been left marvelling at his longevity. He will want to continue from where CSK left off last season, winning the title in Ahmedabad.

So, what makes Dhoni CSK’s supreme leader? It is how Dhoni’s teams find a way to compete even when not playing well. He has that ability to inspire and get his men to deliver from tough situations.

This quality of Dhoni holds the key to success in a high-pressure, ultra-competitive tournament where the margins are slim. One only

needs to check the last two balls of their 2023 final against Gujarat Titans at their home ground, Ahmedabad, to understand what they are all about. With 10 runs needed off the last two balls against the wily pacer Mohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja hit a six and four, adding another chapter to CSK’s IPL folklore.

Together with coach Stephen Fleming, he has created a culture of excellence at CSK.


The leadership transition has to start at some point. CSK have already made some futile attempts with Suresh Raina and Jadeja. Last season, they were looking at England skipper Ben Stokes also as a captaincy option but that too didn’t materialise. It will be interesting to see when Dhoni takes a break during this IPL, who he picks to lead the side. It will provide an indicator of a possible successor.

At the moment, Ruturaj Gaikwad looks like the best prospect to invest in. A gun batter, he is still young (27) and is going to have a long-term association with the franchise.

Though he has yet to settle down in international cricket, Gaikwad has been outstanding in IPL with 1,797 runs in four seasons (avg

39.07, S/R 135.52). In their last two title runs he had delivered blockbuster performances with 635 runs in 2021 and 590 runs in 2023. He captained India to the 2023 Asian Games gold and is thus gaining experience.

Whoever is made captain, commanding Jadeja’s loyalty will be important. If CSK are looking at a safe bet for a couple of years till Ruturaj gains more maturity, there is the option of Ajinkya Rahane, 35, who has captained the volatile all-rounder for India. The Mumbai batter ticks all the captaincy boxes. He led the Test side brilliantly, has had captaincy experience in IPL with Rajasthan

Royals, and just led Mumbai to Ranji Trophy triumph. He also has a temperament to match Dhoni’s calm demeanour. For Rahane, the key is his batting form. He struggled this season in domestic competitions. For CSK though he was a revelation, and if he can show that form again, he can be looked upon as a short-term prospect.

Jadeja too remains a contender. Jadeja’s heroics in the last final have made him a CSK legend. He has consistently delivered with

bat and ball. His struggle as skipper in 2022 may go against him, but to maintain harmony in the camp they may play it safe by handing Jadeja the captaincy when Dhoni takes a break.

With the mega auction to be held next year, CSK can get someone from outside too, but ideally, they would like their next leader to be well-versed with the team’s culture.


The key to a leadership transition will be starting with a clean slate with the next captain. He shouldn’t be compared to Dhoni because those shoes are too big to fill.

Dhoni’s aura as CSK skipper was different. He has had a free hand and franchise boss N Srinivasan’s confidence in him has been a big factor in the team’s continued success. Will the franchise give such freedom to the new captain?

Australia batting great, Matthew Hayden, a former CSK opener, said on official broadcaster Star Sports: “Who is going to lead after MS Dhoni? The franchise has on multiple occasions given the opportunity for new leaders at CSK, Suresh Raina himself, Ravi Jadeja has had a crack as well, but that was always because Dhoni was always inside the camp as a player.

“So, the succession plan is always going to be insurmountable, as long as you have Dhoni at the helm and you have the unchanged players and staff, including Stephen Fleming,” Hayden said on his show.

“But everyone is still rooting for MS Dhoni, who want to see something special come from the blade, from the gloves, from the leadership of the great man. From my end, the legacy will not move on until Dhoni moves on and then we will see a shake down of who the next leaders are.”


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