MS Dhoni: The Keeper of CSK’s Faith

No man, apart from the great Sachin Tendulkar himself, has inspired such emotions in Indian cricket as MS Dhoni has. That man has been a true behemoth of Indian cricket and despite being written off time and again continues to knock his critics and naysayers alike out of the park regularly.

IPL 2018 has brought along a new chapter in the life of the World Cup-winning captain. It has seen the coming of refreshingly new Dhoni. After all, he has been amongst the leading run-scorers of the season with 360 runs in 10 matches along with three fifties and a stunning strike-rate of 165.89. It is not just the runs he has scored, it is the way he is getting them that has been noticeable. This season, Dhoni, returning in the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) set up after a gap of two years, has played with a free abandon – bludgeoning the ball into the stands with brute force, getting the timing right and looking confident and assertive. There is a touch of his vintage self in Dhoni’s performance this IPL – back when he used to be carefree and belligerent – along with a sense of maturity and understanding; a Dhoni 2.0, if you want to call him.

Not too long back, critics had been baying for Dhoni’s blood. And they had reasons too. Though he was getting runs, Dhoni looked tentative and off-color in most of his performances of late. He took a lot of time in getting in and consumed several deliveries in the process. Dhoni’s finishing powers too had been on the wane for some time; there have been quite a few international matches in the recent past where he has failed to finish.

This season of the IPL, though, has allowed Dhoni to regain his old touch. He has been batting higher up the order and relishing the responsibility of being the crux of the team’s batting unit. Interestingly, Dhoni had failed to impress in the first few games and it looked certain that the critics would have their way with him again. But a sensational 44-ball 79 against Kings XI Punjab on a tough run chase, where he almost single handedly took Chennai home from an impossible position, reignited the beast in him.

Ever since that knock, Dhoni has grown from strength to strength and has looked to assert himself from the word go. He has been clearing the fence with ease – he has 27 sixes thus far in the season – and has punished the best of bowlers. Dhoni has also recaptured his finishing touch as was evident in the two games against Royal Challengers Bangalore where he paced his innings beautifully on two different tracks and helped CSK chased down the totals in great fashion.

One wonders what exactly led to the turnaround in Dhoni’s fortunes. He has been working hard on his game and has remained fit for the last couple of years but the runs haven’t flowed. It must be said that perhaps returning to the CSK fold has rekindled the fire within. The love and support he has received from the franchise and the city is unparalleled and has undoubtedly given Dhoni the freedom to just be himself.

Dhoni thrives with CSK and CSK thrives under Dhoni. The wicket-keeper batsman was with Rising Pune Supergiant for the past two seasons and fared poorly with them. The franchise owners somehow found a way to put pressure on him and there was a feeling that they did not respect him. Hence, Dhoni seemed uncomfortable and edgy whilst his stay with the franchise.

With CSK, it is the complete opposite. Dhoni and CSK feed off each other’s energies and hence they tend to do so well together. Dhoni now has an emotional bond with Chennai. With this franchise he has made innumerable fond memories, especially of winning two IPL titles for them as a captain. He is comfortable here and is allowed to be himself. Chennai is like his second home now and one can feel a sense of cathartic release in Dhoni when he is with the CSK side.

The two years away from Chennai must have certainly hurt Dhoni as much as it would have been painful for the CSK fans. And Dhoni would undoubtedly have been desperate to give its loyal fans much to cheer about on his return to the team. Hence, you can sense the passion and fire in Dhoni’s batting this IPL season. He isn’t just batting for himself. He is batting for the CSK fans as well.

For now, one hopes that Dhoni 2.0 continues to unleash his firepower in the IPL and goes on to translate that success for Indian cricket as well. After all, an in-form Dhoni would be a massive boost for the current Indian limited overs team. Whatsoever happens in the future, there is no denying that this is a great time to be a Mahendra Singh Dhoni fan.