(As appeared in The News Minute)
For the fans, it’s hard to imagine a Chennai Super Kings without Dhoni at the helm.
As the Chennai Super Kings gets set to return to action after a two-year ban, Leo the Mascot’s arrival across the much-decorated franchise’s social media platforms last week is creating quite a ripple in its multi-million-strong fan base.
Even as Brand CSK and the ongoing Tamil Nadu Premier League 2.0, also sponsored by CSK-backers India Cements, feed off each other to keep their popularity stakes high, Leo is stirring it up in the emotion-driven world of Yellow – CSK’s colours in the multi-billion dollar T20 league.
But, while fans await the roar of the ‘super singham’, there’s one question on everyone’s lips: will the talismanic Mahendra Singh Dhoni return to helm the side back to glory days when they rarely ever lost at the Chidambaram Stadium, their den.
So it was that the packed Chidambaram Stadium was a sea of Yellow during the launch of TNPL 2.0 last month, when several ex-CSK players paraded in Yellow jerseys (with the TNPL logo) and Dhoni, around whom Brand CSK was built, smashed three sixes in a six-hitting competition much to the delight of the crowd.
There appears to be a strong possibility of CSK retaining its marquee players despite the two-year ban. IPL Chairman Rajeev Shukla recently confirmed that the agreement with the Rising Pune Supergiant, for which Dhoni turned out, and the Gujarat Lions were only for two seasons.
Originally, all players were to go into the auction pool after the first 10-year cycle. However, Shukla said after IPL-10, “We will have a mega auction but retention policy also needs to be decided.”
This came after several franchises, including Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians, raised the issue on the importance of retention.
“Every franchise needs a sense of continuity, and to do that it needs a connect to the city which it is embraced in,” KKR CEO Venky Mysore told The Sportstar website recently.
“The way you achieve continuity is by maintaining a core group, which you believe is core to the team. That translates into a retention strategy. This retention strategy happened since the very first edition, so now if you abandon it, nobody will allow that,” he added.
Retention policy is what CSK is heavily banking on. However, the CSK management has also made it clear that it will go all out to get Dhoni back in the event of an auction.
“Obviously we want MSD and our core back,” a senior CSK official told the TNM. “The IPL Governing Council is yet to announce the player retention policy going forward, and so we will only have to wait until then,” he added.
CSK’s record in the first eight seasons is impressive, to say the least. IPL winners in 2010 and 2011, they were the runners-up in 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2015 (the team’s final appearance before the ban). They were also semi-finalists in all eight seasons,
the Champions League winners in 2010 and 2014, and have the highest win percentage (60.68%). Not to forget, an enviable home record, including an unbeaten run in 2011, when they turned Chidambaram Stadium into “Fortress Chepauk”.
The man who made CSK into a mean machine was Dhoni. One of the game’s greatest finishers, Dhoni turned several key contests in the IPL on their heads with his calculated assaults that left his fans swooning and oppositions shocked.
“Although we understand that it’s not certain that Dhoni will be back with CSK, it’s going to be difficult to think of CSK without Dhoni,” cricket lover and CSK loyalist S Sankar tells TNM. “The last two years were a different story since CSK wasn’t playing,” he adds.
The mutual connect was evident during the TNPL 2.0 launch when Dhoni told the official broadcasters, “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.”
“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. There was a Test match in the middle, but we haven’t played any limited-overs cricket here,” India’s most successful captain across formats added.
Clearly, Dhoni has taken to Chennai as much as the southern metropolis has taken to him.
“It’s 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,” he was quoted as saying by DT Next.
Come April 2018 – Chennai waits eagerly to find out – when Leo calls, will Dhoni’s roar rise with the rest.