“Been slow on life after MS Dhoni,” says Fleming, as CSK look to the future

MS Dhoni with Stephen Fleming
MS Dhoni with Stephen Fleming (PC: Subhayan)

The buzz in and around the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Thursday was all about Ruturaj Gaikwad being announced as the new captain of the Chennai Super Kings after MS Dhoni passed on the leadership baton to the youngster. Yet, the entire stadium, where around 1500 people have been working tirelessly to put everything in place before the Indian Premier League 2024 commences on Friday, came to a standstill when Thala [The Leader, as Dhoni is known] walked in with Shivam Dube and Ravindra Jadeja to bat at the nets.

Dhoni, Jadeja and Dube batted in turns and the troika focused just on one thing – hitting as many sixes as possible. With Gaikwad, the new captain, and Ajinkya Rahane, the senior pro, keeping a close eye at the proceedings from afar, one could sense that the 27-year-old will get plenty of support and guidance from the senior members of the squad. In Stephen Fleming’s words, the franchise is well-prepared to move away from captain Dhoni. Notably, India won the Asian Games gold medal under Gaikwad’s captaincy.

“We weren’t ready to move away from MS (Dhoni) in 2022,” Fleming told the media here on the eve of the opening game. “Dhoni has a good sense of the game, but we want to develop young players for the role. We are well prepared this time. The last time MS (had) left captaincy, (it) was shocking to us and we weren’t aware that MS would step down. But this time we knew.

“We have been working hard to prepare leaders. We have been slow on life after MS Dhoni. But trusting the youngsters has paid off well for us. I have already had a word with the youngsters like Rutu [Gaikwad] about leadership and captaincy. It is a great opportunity for him to lead the team.”

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With every sweetly timed six, there were huge roars from the staffers keeping an eye on Dhoni at the nets. Dhoni is 42 and to his credit, he has kept his body in pristine condition. Though he managed to play the majority of the last season with a knee injury, this year he is back in better condition following surgery at the end of IPL 2023. Most of the locals were hoping to watch Dhoni as captain one last time in IPL 2024, and for a few of them, this has come as a disappointment. “Whoever becomes the captain, Thala will remain our leader forever,” exclaimed one fan, desperately searching for tickets outside the stadium.

“Dhoni must have given it good thought,” CD Gopinath, India’s oldest living cricketer and part of the first Test win, told RevSportz. “He did the same in 2022 but it didn’t work well. I have followed his batting, his captaincy, closely in his career and the boy has a very good brain. Ruturaj is a good choice. He is young and with Dhoni around, it’ll be the best learning for him. I wish him and CSK the best. Dhoni is a genius and he’ll get a fitting farewell from the fans in India if it is his last season.”

Sameer Rizvi, CSK’s latest recruit who was signed for a whopping 8.2 crores at the auction, also stole the thunder at the nets with his clean striking. While Fleming played his cards close to his chest when quizzed about CSK’s recruit, the 20-year-old from Uttar Pradesh has the ability to be Chennai’s X-factor over the course of the season.

Following his net session, Rizvi was seen having a lengthy chat with Gaikwad and Rahane. It felt like Gaikwad, the captain, has already got going in his new role. Also present in the nets was Rachin Ravindra, who is likely to open the innings with Gaikwad, and the Kiwi recruit looked in good touch, especially in his battle against Moeen Ali. His late cuts, sweeps and ability to dance down the track were the major highlights from a 20-minute stint.

MS Dhoni in nets
MS Dhoni in nets (PC: Subhayan)

While most of the fans gathered outside the venue were disappointed at not getting their hands on tickets, some were even ready to pay Rs 20,000 for one. “Our Dhoni is returning after a year,” said one such fan, whose team jersey had Dhoni printed on the back. “I am sad to not have tickets for the match. I am willing to pay anything for a ticket.”

A bunch of youngsters in search of tickets were disappointed with the asking price on black market. “My parents hardly give me Rs 2000, and some people are asking for 40,000 for a ticket,” said a teenager. “It is crazy. What will youngsters like us do?”

There are already plenty of headlines before the match. Gaikwad being named the new skipper. Virat Kohli returning to action after a break. RCB heading in with a new name, logo and jersey. But one thing is for sure. When Dhoni takes the field, it’ll be all about Thala, as a sea of yellow welcomes him back with open arms.

Also Read: Dhoni’s last dance? Fans think so

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