As Dhoni passes the baton again, CSK says it is better prepared | Cricket

MS Dhoni must have thought about his decision to hand over the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) captaincy to Ruturaj Gaikwad for several days, if not weeks or months. In typical Dhoni style, it was only on Thursday – the day before the IPL opener against Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai – that he made it known to the world entire via a short press release from the franchise.

Dhoni, 42, is used to answering these big calls without revealing too much. (PTI)

Dhoni, 42, is used to answering these big calls without revealing too much. Sample his Test outing in Melbourne in 2014, which was again the subject of a BCCI statement shortly after a media interaction at the end of a drawn Test where he remained tight-lipped on his intentions. The retirement from limited-overs cricket for India – in 2020 – also happened without any emotional speeches or teary-eyed farewells, a social media post that read “from 7:29 p.m., consider me as retired” marking the end of a decorated international career.

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Nearly five years after he last played for India, Dhoni is likely to be done with this IPL season. And the decision to hand over the CSK captaincy to Gaikwad is a sign of that, as is the long mane he is growing, in memory of his debut in the limelight.

It goes without saying that Gaikwad has big boots to fill as Dhoni is undoubtedly one of the best captains to have graced the limited-overs game. His legacy as CSK leader is unlikely to ever be matched, having won five IPL titles during a hugely successful tenure that began in 2008. CSK have won 130 of the 220 matches in which Dhoni has them led.

This is not Dhoni’s first attempt to bring about a transition at the helm of CSK. In 2022, he decided to relinquish his captaincy and let star all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja take charge. The franchise, however, won only two of their first eight matches, leading to Jadeja’s resignation and Dhoni taking over the captaincy as CSK finished in ninth place.

If Gaikwad is the man chosen this time, it is because he has established his credentials as an opening batter over the last four seasons. And given that he is 27 years old, CSK will be able to build their team around him in a mega auction in 2025.

During a pre-match interaction on Thursday, CSK coach Stephen Fleming revealed that it was solely Dhoni’s decision. “It was MS with a lot of consideration, with a vision towards the future after a good season last year. The timing was good. Behind the scenes, Ruturaj and others went through a process of preparing for the captaincy. The opportunity presented itself. MS is the best judge and he felt the time was right,” the New Zealander said.

Fleming, CSK’s coach since 2009, admitted they were not well prepared for a transition when Jadeja became captain in 2022. “The big problem a few years ago was that we probably weren’t ready for MS to step aside,” conceded the 50-year-old. “This prompted us, as a management group, to examine the possibility of his departure. Until then, it was almost unthinkable. We worked very hard to ensure that the mistakes made then do not happen again.

Asked if Dhoni would play the role of on-field mentor to Gaikwad, Fleming said: “Yes, I hope so. It’s about achieving the right balance without interfering, but also providing leadership that he can’t ignore. He (Dhoni) has too much of a presence that you can’t just turn it off.

Although Dhoni’s leadership qualities have offset a decline in his personal output in recent seasons, CSK will be hoping his skills with the bat come to the fore this year. He was hampered by a knee injury last season and ranked mostly 7th or 8th, but after undergoing surgery in June, he hopes to roll out those big hits and win more games in his own right.

“I expect MS to play and play well,” Fleming said. “The indications from his pre-season are that he is going very well. His body is much better and stronger than last year. From what I can see, his desire to contribute and do well is stronger than ever, which is great for us. He hits the ball beautifully into the net.

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