Dhoni vs Kohli in IPL 2024 first day evening show

Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni
Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni (PC: X & Subhayan) 

Thala checked in, and the ‘king’ stayed away. MS Dhoni looked to be enjoying himself during Chennai Super Kings’ practice at Chepauk on the IPL opener eve. A few lusty hits wowed the onlookers, and the IPL crew, who broke into a collective cheer. At the Royal Challengers Bengaluru corner, Virat Kohli was conspicuous by his absence. Never mind, it was an optional training session.

The stage is set, the silver screen stars have been invited for a grand opening ceremony and the first ball of IPL 2024 is just hours away. A face-off between Dhoni’s CSK and Kohli’s RCB is expected to have divided loyalty. Kohli trumps Dhoni on social media. He has 61.8 million followers on X as compared to the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman’s 8.6 million. Also, Kohli has a bigger global reach, with the likes of Harry Kane and Thomas Muller featuring in his friends list. In Chennai, however, there’s only one winner.

Cricket fans in this city swear by Dhoni and they will be watching this IPL with a bit of a heavy heart. Outside Gate No. 12 at Chepauk, Riyansh took time out from his busy schedule — selling Dhoni’s replica shirts for Rs 150 each — to speak his mind. “I’m sad that Dhoni has given up captaincy, but we all know that this year will be his last. So this time, people would be more keen to watch him in action.”

How did he know Dhoni’s retirement plans? “Age. He is 42,” Riyansh said logically.

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MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli in IPL
MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli in IPL (PC: X)

CSK kept their cards close to the chest as regards to Dhoni relinquishing captaincy and Ruturaj Gaikwad taking over as his successor. It is learnt that when the former captain broke the news in the dressing room, there were some tears before everyone put his hands together for the new skipper. Just from a cricketing point of view, this could be a tactical masterstroke. This will allow Dhoni to play as an impact player, especially if CSK bat first. As for captaincy, he will be the think-tank, while Ruturaj will learn on the job.

Dhoni is a master at keeping things guarded. When he retired from Test cricket in the middle of a series in Australia in 2014, nobody anticipated it before the announcement. When he passed on the CSK baton to Ravindra Jadeja in 2022, it came as a big surprise. And very few outside the CSK dressing room and top management had an inkling about the current change of guard — Dhoni handing over the reins to the young Ruturaj. CSK’s experiment with Jadeja didn’t go to plan. They would hope that the 27-year-old Ruturaj gradually fits into the leadership role, although he has an unenviable job of replacing the irreplaceable.

“We weren’t ready to move away from MS in 2022. Dhoni has a good sense of the game, but we want to develop the young players for the role. We are well prepared this time,” CSK head coach Stephen Fleming said at the pre-match press conference.

What about Kohli by the way? He is returning to competitive cricket after a gap of two months, having opted out of the Test series against England, and this IPL is very important for him, with the T20 World Cup around the corner.

MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli will be in action in IPL 2024 Opener
MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli will be in action in IPL 2024 Opener (PC: X)

“Kohli has had a good bit of time off from his cricket. He is in a great frame of mind. He has had good family time, he is fresh with his energy and he is looking forward to getting involved,” said Mo Bobat, RCB’s director of cricket.

He added: “He (Kohli) has had a few hits with us over the last few days and he is hitting the ball brilliantly.”

In terms of head-to-head in the IPL, CSK versus RCB has been a pretty lopsided affair. The teams have faced each other in 31 matches, with CSK winning 20, RCB winning 10 and one ending in no result. In T20 cricket, however, there are no favourites and past records are irrelevant.

On paper, it’s a battle of equals, with both teams boasting several match-winners. In reality, RCB have quite a job at hand, for CSK would be egged on by an overriding yellow wave of emotion.

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

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