By Akshay Ramesh: When he and his team won the IPL on their comeback after a 2-year hiatus, MS Dhoni gave a thumbs up to the television camera. That was it. Donning pads in the dugout in Hyderabad, all that MS Dhoni apparently said after the title triumph was just ‘job done’.
In 2021 in Dubai, he was in the middle soaking in the feeling of their 4th title triumph while the men in yellow around him jubilantly celebrated.
From a man who just held his pose and hopped to take the stumps after giving India one of its greatest cricketing moments in 2011, it’s too much to expect a Ravindra Jadeja-like victory lap.
However, on Tuesday, May 30, nearly 3 days after the IPL 2023 final was scheduled to get underway, 35 overs after the start of the summit clash on the Reserve Day, there was a never-seen-before version of MS Dhoni on display.
DHONI WAITS FOR DHONI-ESQUE MIRACLE
When he got out for a golden duck, the disappointment on his face was visible. It was an oddity as he rarely showcases emotions, let alone at such a crunch moment in a tense chase. But there he was, shaking his head and sliding into his seat in the dugout with a sense of frustration and disappointment at the Narendra Modi Stadium.
CSK needed 13 runs in the final over. Mohit Sharma, one of MS Dhoni’s former trusted aides, could do nothing wrong on his comeback season with the Gujarat Titans. He went unsold in IPL 2021 and 2022, but on Tuesday morning, he was making sure he would never go unsold again with a sensational final over. Three yorkers and a low full-toss allowed captain Hardik Pandya to afford a wide grin on his face. Mohit was keeping quiet two of the most fearsome hitters in the CSK camp – Shivam Dube and Ravindra Jadeja.
The television cameras had spotted a young woman in CSK colours weeping. The tension in the stands was palpable as even the most ardent CSK fans seemed to have lost hope.
Their Thala was not in the middle but in the dugout, waiting for a Dhoni-esque miracle.
Dhoni kept his eyes closed as the equation came down to 10 from 2 balls. He did not or was not able to watch the scenes unfolding in the middle. In one of those rarest finishes, he was not in the middle.
AN UNUSUAL EXPERIENCE
Chennai Super Kings head coach Stephen Fleming explained the ‘unusual experience’, decoding what went through in the dugout.
“He is probably, more times than not, used to being in the middle. For him to sit there and watch is an unusual experience. As calm as he is and as cool as he is, it means a lot (to him),” Fleming said after CSK’s record-equalling 5th triumph.
Dhoni briefly kept his eyes open to watch the penultimate delivery of the final over sail into the stands over long-on.
4 was needed off the final delivery. Mohit Sharma, who was terrific in the death for the Titans, was under pressure as Ravindra Jadeja was doing what his captain had done to many a bowler in the past.
Mohit Sharma took his time before he ran in for the final delivery. Jadeja did not finch. He took a deep breath, moved away from the pitch and tried to keep himself in the zone.
It would have been easy for Jadeja to let his mind wander to the 2019 IPL final in which a Lasith Malinga yorker denied CSK a last-ball victory. But the all-rounder kept his calm and got bat to ball as Mohit strayed down the leg.
As the ball beat the short square leg fielder, Jadeja set off for the victory lap. The CSK all-rounder did not even remove his helmet as he ran around the ground, soaking in the adulation from the crowd.
THE TEARFUL EMBRACE
Who writes these IPL scripts? The man who was burdened by the responsibility of captaincy, rumoured to leave the franchise, won it for the fans, the franchise, and ‘Mahi bhai’ who kept backing him despite all the rumbles from last year.
It seemed as if MS Dhoni would have also joined the celebration if not for the dodgy knee that he was managing throughout the season. He embraced CSK’s batting coach Michael Hussey and all-rounder Moeen Ali.
Dhoni waited for Jadeja to complete his victory lap and lifted him and gave his finisher a tearful hug. Dhoni was struggling to control his tears as he embraced Jadeja while his teammates and head coach Stephen Fleming surrounded them.
It was one of the rarest uncut MS Dhoni moments. There have been instances where the ‘Captain Cool’ had let his emotions get the better of him in the IPL. Be it storming onto the pitch to confront the umpires in Jaipur or ‘time-wasting’ to allow his death-ball specialist to bowl a crucial over earlier this year, Dhoni has not shied away from drifting away from his calm and collected persona for the sake of CSK.
THE PROMISE OF A GIFT
An unrestrained MS Dhoni moment was the perfect finale for arguably one of the most exciting seasons of the IPL.
Before he embraced his daughter Ziva, who joined the victory celebrations, before he embraced Ajinkya Rahane, before he patted Ambati Rayudu on his back, before he embraced Matthew Hayden, before he broke into laughter while celebrating with Devon Conway, before he posed for the shutterbugs, before he took the special photograph with Jadeja and his wife, Dhoni showed that he too is human.
“Well, you do get emotional for the simple fact that it’s the last part of my career. And it started over here. When I played the first game here (Ahmedabad), when I walked around, the crowd was chanting my name. My eyes actually was filled with water. I just stood there in the dugout for a while. I took my time and realised I wanted to enjoy it and not take pressure. I think it was the same thing in Chennai,” MS Dhoni, at his candid and raw best, told Harsha Bhogle when he was asked about an uncharacteristic show of emotions.
IPL 2023 will always be remembered for the Shubman Gills, the Yashasvi Jaiswals, the Mohit Sharmas and the Piyush Chawlas, but an inhibited MS Dhoni experience will top the list.
After the title triumph, MS Dhoni, unlike the last few weeks, did not add to the speculation around his retirement. A more candid MS Dhoni helped put a pause to the waiting game.
“The easy thing for me to say is thank you and retire. But the hard thing to do is to work hard for nine months and try to play one more IPL season. The body has to hold up. But the amount of love I have received from CSK fans, it would be a gift for them to play one more season,” he said.
We all shall wait for the gift next summer.