Has the time finally come for Dhoni to play a more auxiliary role for CSK?

There is fair reason for Chennai Super Kings to be considered one of the top teams in the IPL. Three league titles, a record number of final appearances, and a slew of world-class players playing for them over the years has helped build a firm support base.  

At the heart of it all is a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. You have either watched him demolish teams with a barrage of sixes, or if you aren’t a cricket fan, you have at least heard of him. From his match-winning six at Wankhede to his countless diving catches, Dhoni has been one of the greatest to ever grace the cricket field.

Ever since he was bought by the Tamil Nadu outfit for $1.5 million in 2008, he has delivered above and beyond the price tag. To cricket experts and neutrals alike, the captain passes with flying colours.

Yet, the last IPL season was a major blemish on Thala’s sparkling resume. For the first time in their history, CSK failed to make the IPL Playoffs, finishing second-last. Even the legendary captain himself had finished his worst IPL season.

He hit just 200 runs and did not score even one half-century. When he was batting, he looked gassed, and you wondered whether he had anything left in the tank.

The Men in Yellow rightfully deserved to finish where they did. On closer inspection, you may argue that it was a freak season where all the bad stars (COVID-19, injuries, bad decisions, form and age) aligned to devastating effect.

However, there is no escaping the fact that Dhoni was one of those stars.

For someone who has a reputation of being ‘the finisher’ and a big-game player, his star (pardon the pun) was starting to wane.

Too often last season, CSK found themselves in a position where Dhoni had to steer the ship towards the island, and he couldn’t. It was hardly the captain’s fault, because a team shouldn’t be in that position so frequently in the first place.

Yet, you couldn’t shake the feeling that the Dhoni of seasons past would have pummelled bowlers all over the park and got his team over the finish line.

This one felt like a shadow of his former self, huffing and puffing for each run.

After the season, it begged the question – was Dhoni, at this stage in his career, good enough to hold his position purely as captain and wicketkeeper?

To selectors, it must be a huge dilemma on paper, yet Dhoni has started all games for CSK so far. And so far this season, Dhoni’s contribution with the bat has been minimal. Not that the team has really needed him all that much.

CSK has been exceptional so far in 2021, and a reinvigorated team has shown that although Dhoni the batsman may have regressed, Dhoni the wicketkeeper, captain and tactician is still class. His performances behind the wickets have been as reliable as ever, while his team selections and strategies have been spot-on.

There is no doubt a huge portion of CSK fans would shudder at the idea of Dhoni being phased out of the team.

This is a man who has fought for the shirt since his first game. In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong if you suggested he is the most revered personality in Tamil Nadu, only behind superstar Rajinikanth himself.

From a financial standpoint as well, parting ways with him would be like rejecting Brad Pitt’s offer to endorse your clothing brand. Dhoni generates a ton of revenue through ads and ticket sales, so it would be foolish for N. Srinivasan and India Cements to abandon their gold mine.

You also have to spare a thought for Captain Cool himself. The man probably wants to retire with an IPL title like Sachin Tendulkar did with the Mumbai Indians.

CSK has a ready-made Dhoni replacement in Narayan Jagadeesan, a wicketkeeper-batsman with a great domestic cricket record. It makes you wonder if Dhoni hanging around is good from a sporting point of view. Mahi’s batting is also not what it used to be, so it makes sense to integrate Jagadeesan into the side and give him a run of games.

Dhoni, meanwhile, should take a step back and be more selective with respect to matchday appearances. Captaincy can be delegated to senior players like Faf du Plessis or Suresh Raina.

When he decides to retire for good, he will no doubt leave a huge void in the CSK ranks. No words will do justice to his career as a cricketer, captain and tactician, and no matter how he goes out, he will always be fondly remembered in cricket lore.

Ultimately, what’s next for Dhoni is up to him and his bosses. For now, let’s enjoy the twilight of the man’s career and celebrate what he has given us. When he decides to part ways with cricket, there is no doubt that all cricket fans should band together and applaud the achievements of a modern-day legend.

And if he retires like Sachin, IPL trophy in hand, it calls for everyone joining CSK fans in a “whistle podu” session.

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