On April 25, 2014, M. S. Dhoni featured in his 100th IPL game as the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) captain in Dubai. The talisman of the Yellow Army was in the pink of his international commitments while leading the most successful team of the tournament then.
Marshalling a team packed with overseas batters and a string of Indian seamers and quality spinners, Dhoni led CSK to a comfortable win over Mumbai Indians.
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Nine summers later, things are similar within the CSK camp. The team still sports a stacked batting lineup and leading international spinners in its ranks. And an older but wiser Dhoni continues to produce the goods with unheralded Indian seamers.
Wednesday brings another feat for the former Indian skipper as he steps out to lead CSK for the 200th time in the IPL. As the oldest captain ever in the tournament, he will meet Rajasthan Royals’ Sanju Samson – the youngest captain this season – at the toss.
The longevity is remarkable. He has outlasted his seniors and peers and continues to jostle with his team India successors while remaining the benchmark across 16 editions. For the sake of consistency, no skipper has marched his team to the Playoffs more often, and none can flaunt a win-loss ratio greater than 1.436.
The weight of captaincy has not rested well on the shoulders of several prolific international players in the IPL. Dhoni, however, is still the heart, face, and mind of the four-time champion despite a surprising yet brief decision to relinquish and reclaim the reins after Ravindra Jadeja called it quits midway through last season.
Perhaps, Dhoni foresaw an imminent future where he did not see himself in yellow on the field. And, probably, he was forced to retract when an immediate successor was not to be seen. While his international career abruptly ran out in Manchester in 2019 or did in hindsight due to COVID-19, Dhoni, who can be reticent, has become more open about his plans.
“I have always planned my cricket. My last home game, the ODI version, was in Ranchi. Hopefully, my last T20 will be in Chennai. Whether it is next year or in the next five years’ time, we don’t really know,” Dhoni said after he pulled off a fourth IPL title for CSK in 2021, wedged between its two worst campaigns.
With the emergence of a sprightly Ruturaj Gaikwad, Dhoni might finally have a clearer picture of when and where he will draw the line on representing a brand that has grown on him so much over the years.
His never-seen-before biceps this season have silently pronounced his undying spirit to stay relevant as always. However, a dodgy knee makes one realise that here is a 41-year-old, turning 42 in July, fighting through when he dons the gloves or sprints between the wickets. Painkiller injections were supposedly his companion in the build-up to the season.
The lines from Alfred Tennyson’s Ullyses metaphorically sketch Dhoni of this day.
‘We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’
Many Dhoni fans won’t be at an electrifying Chepauk during the home leg. Some will rage against the ticketing system. But they will huddle around the screen. Dhoni took on a fiery head-high Mark Wood bumper and biffed it deep over the mid-wicket fence. That has got the faithful going.
Records are certain with every movement this season for Dhoni who has battled the Warnes and Tendulkars and the Rohits and Pants. For now, there is more to savour.