Mahendra Singh Dhoni is regarded as an icon by Indian cricket fans but for the Chennai Super Kings faithful, he is so much more. Having led the Chennai-based side to three Indian Premier League (IPL) titles, Dhoni is fondly called Thala or Leader by the CSK fanatics.
Dhoni was picked up by the franchise for the inaugural edition of the IPL back in ’08 and has served as the CSK captain since, barring the 2016 and 2017 seasons in which CSK were suspended. Over the 10 seasons he has been with the team, the Jharkhand-born player led the Tamil Nadu-based team to three trophies and five runners-up finishes, firmly establishing himself as a hero in the region and eventually transcending it. Off the field too, Dhoni has also built up a special rapport with the fanbase, which, in turn, adores him wholeheartedly.
Over these ten IPL seasons, the skipper missed just five games for CSK and the Men in Yellow have undoubtedly struggled without their main man. The team has played five matches without Dhoni and lost out on four occasions, proving the team’s dependency on their ‘Thala’ to win matches.
Currently 38, Dhoni is slowly but surely approaching the twilight of his cricketing career and rumours of his retirement has already started making the rounds. Even if these turn out to be baseless speculations, sooner or later sooner or later, CSK and its fans have to prepare for life without Dhoni.
Even though N Srinivasan, the managing director of India Cements (owners of CSK), has confirmed that Dhoni will be retained for the 2021 season, it will be wise for the management to slowly start preparing for the inevitable.
Dhoni’s successor as captain?
It’ll be a herculean task to live up to the high standards set by Dhoni but the Chennai-based franchise has some quality and experienced players who can fill in the shoes once the incumbent captain hangs up his boots.
Suresh Raina has been the vice-captain for the team since the first season and knows the Chepauk wicket well. Chinna Thala, the name given to him by the yellow brigade, has the experience of leading the Indian T20I team in Dhoni’s absence and has also captained the now-defunct Gujarat Lions to a 3rd place finish in 2016.
Dhoni has groomed Raina through the years just like he conditioned Virat Kohli before passing the Indian captaincy to him. We have witnessed how Kohli has transformed into one of the most successful captains of India and it wouldn’t be wrong to expect the same from Raina at CSK.
Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo are also worthy captaincy options having the valuable experience of leading the South African and West Indies respectively.
No back-up wicket-keeper
While replacing Dhoni as the skipper is a tough task, CSK still have a few viable options readily available. But finding someone to fit into Dhoni’s gloves behind the wicket, perhaps presents the CSK management with a much bigger headache.
Chennai Super Kings, over the years, became so used to Dhoni keeping the wickets that they never went out looking for a proper no. 2 for the spot. The Ranchi-born wicketkeeper is regarded as one of the best glovemen not just in the IPL, but in the world. His lightning-fast stumping and witty run-outs are a spectacle to behold and can turn matches.
CSK have tried Ambati Rayudu behind the stumps in Dhoni’s absence but the Andhra Pradesh player doesn’t quite match up to what Dhoni brings to the table. The team also has a young uncapped keeper in Narayan Jagadeesan who keeps wickets for his state team, Tamil Nadu. But the 24-year-old is maybe too inexperienced to take up the mantle.
If CSK are to make any sort of progress without Dhoni, they need to procure the services of a new wicket-keeper who can try to match Dhoni’s glovework.
The road ahead
Dhoni has proved to be an invaluable asset for CSK and it will take a while for the team to find their way without him.
Their other key players like Bravo, Watson, Raina, Tahir may have some cricket left in them but are also fast approaching the fag end of their careers. And whether the cool-minded captain decides to continue playing or not, it seems like the right time for CSK to focus on building for the future.
By Sportz Interactive