Dhoni’s Dynasty at CSK Might Be Coming to an End, But His Legacy Is Immortal

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Dhoni’s Dynasty at CSK Might Be Coming to an End, But His Legacy Is Immortal

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

How do you define a dynasty? By the number of victories? By the impact they had on the game? By the number of people they inspired along the way? It’s a little bit of everything. Most dynasties have a thread that binds them together. A style of play. A set of players that came together and created magic. Though Chennai Super Kings can boast of having all those qualities, the thread that bound the CSK dynasty together was their talismanic captain, and the two’s fates always felt intertwined. Dynasties end. And sometimes, they end abruptly.

Virender Sehwag was the original choice of the CSK management when the IPL began. But his insistence on playing for Delhi made the team management turn to MS Dhoni, who was the newly minted Indian captain at the time. No one would have envisioned that a player from Jharkhand would be thought of as Chennai’s own.

The Chennai Super Kings have been consistent, accumulated a rabid fan base and have been captained by Dhoni since the start of the IPL. But this edition has been ominous for them. Within a few days of reaching Dubai, Suresh Raina, one of their key players, abruptly left the squad and returned home. Harbhajan Singh said he wouldn’t play this year’s edition due to personal reasons. All eyes were on Dhoni, who hadn’t played any sort of competitive cricket since India’s ill-fated semi-final against New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup. That’s more than a year out of action.

Dhoni, the talisman

As the tournament has progressed, the sluggishness has become apparent. Even with three victories — one a comprehensive one — they haven’t found their rhythm. Dhoni looks like a pale shadow of his former self and can no longer finish matches with aplomb. They have been unable to accelerate the scoring rate, and for a team that has made the playoffs in every season, they are on alien territory.

Dhoni looks like a pale shadow of his former self and can no longer finish matches with aplomb.

Chennai’s success as a franchise can be partly attributed to their owners. India Cements have been instrumental in setting up a cricket culture in Tamil Nadu for years. While owners like Vijay Mallya, Priety Zinta, and Shah Rukh Khan bought teams to inflate their already inflated egos or expand their personal brand, N Srinivasan, the MD of India Cements and once the most powerful man in world cricket, gave the keys to the team to Dhoni and left him to his own devices. That trust paid off. They have qualified for the play-offs every season, won the trophy thrice and been the runners-up five times.

N Srinivasan or “Srini mama” as he is fondly called, might go down in history as one of the few sports administrators who genuinely kept the players’ interests in mind. It was under his stewardship that the BCCI gave past cricketers a generous one-time payment and also instituted a pension scheme that included widows of cricketers.

But Srinivasan is no saint.

At the peak of his powers, he ran the BCCI with an iron fist. He amended the rules that allowed a board member to also own a franchise, being one of the original culprits of the conflict of interest problem that has come to haunt cricket ever since. He was accused of tweaking the auction to buy Andrew Flintoff in the third season of the IPL. His lowest moment came when his son-in-law was accused of betting and the franchise was banned for two years from the league along with the Rajasthan Royals.

CSK story is a Tollywood script

They came back from a two-year suspension and shocked everyone by winning the title in 2018. In 2019, they made it to the finals and lost by one run. Much like Tamil cinema, their story reads like a Tollywood script. But that script might be reaching the final act. For a format that puts youth on a pedestal, many of CSK’s stars are on their last legs. MS Dhoni is 39, Shane Watson is 39, Imran Tahir is 41, Dwayne Bravo is 37. No one likes to see a dynasty end. It isn’t just about results but all the emotions that you have invested into a team or player. Dhoni is CSK and CSK is Dhoni. It’s one of cricket’s most unlikely pairings but it has stood the test of time. But nostalgia is not a strategy for winning. It’s tough to imagine CSK without Dhoni but it will come to pass sooner or later.

It’s the first time that CSK has not qualified for the playoffs, but there is always a first for everything.}

Where does CSK go from here? For a squad not used to making too many changes, a wholesale change awaits. Dhoni might play another edition, or not. We might have seen the last of the likes of Shane Watson and Dwyane Bravo. It’s the first time they have not qualified for the playoffs, but there is always a first for everything.

The Chennai fans are responsible for one of the most memorable scenes in Indian cricket. In 1999, India lost a Test match to Pakistan in heartbreaking fashion. After the match, the Pakistan team took a lap of honour around the ground and the crowd at the MA Chidambaram stadium stood up to applaud them. While the stadiums are empty now, I can imagine CSK fans doing the same: standing up and giving the Dhoni era rapturous applause. All good things must come to an end.

Even if this is the twilight of the Dhoni era, the whistles will live on forever.

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