The long absence clearly had no effect on Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s legion of fans in his adopted city of Chennai as was seen when he walked out to bat at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in the One Day International against Australia on Sept 17 – his first outing at Chepauk in almost two years.
A packed stadium chanted “Dhoni! Dhoni!” continuously from the time their “Thala” walked out from the pavilion until he reached the pitch to take position. For, to the Chennai Super Kings fans, it rekindled memories of the Lion in his Den – Fortress Chepauk.
Dhoni’s love affair with the southern metropolis continued as he struck 79 and in the process became only the fourth Indian to record a century of fifties in international cricket after Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly.
Impressively, Dhoni averages over a 100 in ODIs and 80.75 in Tests at Chepauk. In the Indian Premier League, he is a CSK legend – leading the side to two titles (2010 & 2011), final on four other occasions (2008, 2012, 2013 and 2015) and the semi-finals in all eight seasons that they featured in. Not to forget the Champions League T20 trophies in 2010 and 2014.
One of the game’s greatest finishers, Captain Cool turned several key contests in the IPL on their heads with his calculated assaults that left fans swooning and oppositions shocked.
The connect between Thala and his fandom was evident during the launch of the second edition of the Tamil Nadu Premier League in July.
“I would definitely like to congratulate that CSK is back and next year you will be watching them play here. The long wait is over. I think the Yellow is pretty special and I think we have done pretty well in Yellow,” he said at the inauguration function of TNPL 2.0.
“CSK has the biggest fan following. In the last two years, we were not there but the way the fans supported us (CSK players in RPS and GL) it was like they were waiting for CSK to come back,” added India’s most successful captain across all formats.
“It’s (always) good to be here, where I can proudly say that I played a lot of (my) cricket. I made my Test debut in Chennai. The crowd has been fantastic. They have given unconditional love and affection. I always say this is my second home.”
Accepting responsibility, soaking up pressure, seizing the initiative – Dhoni’s captaincy, like his batting, possessed all these characteristics along with that rare amateur spirit.
Asked how he managed to remain calm under pressure, Dhoni said, “To keep it simple it is important not to think about the result... shouldn’t think too much ahead of time and just concentrate on the process.
“If you are defending a score, think about which bowler can be used and what will be the field placements. When you are constantly thinking of all these things, you don’t think about the result.
“So there is less pressure and you are trying to make sure that the process is more important. You are looking at how you can alter the course of the game and that, in turn, will help me get the desired results. That is how I keep myself calmer under pressure and practise is something that gives you the confidence as to what needs to be done under pressure.”