“Purity in love defines Chennai Super Kings fans.”

Love for CSK displayed by fans. Source (X)

The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 is approaching its business end, with the final at Chepauk in Chennai on May 26. During the last six weeks and more, there has been plenty of hate, vitriol and anger spewed on social media. Toxic in nature and combustible, if analysed from the prism of someone who works in a chemistry lab, fans have shown their ugly side.

If there is one team which has stood the test of time, since the inception of the IPL in 2008, it has to be Chennai Super Kings. As the sea of yellow swamped even distant Dharamasala to defeat Punjab Kings on Sunday night, what stood out, yet again, was the love from fans.

At a time when Hardik Pandya facing flak from Mumbai Indians supporters has shown even European lager-lout fans in good light, the way CSK have constantly and consistently earned love is a lesson for all. Social media is hard. And it is for the thick-skinned, where one has to be inert to the criticism he or she will invite from unknown handles on Instagram, Facebook and X (Twitter).

What’s most disconcerting, even more than the bounce on a two-paced pitch, is social media’s aggressive and volatile nature. An exception to this rule has been CSK, a side which has not been subjected to crazy levels of hatred or abuse, even when the team have played below par. Indeed, IPL 2024 has been up and down for the defending champions, but there is so much to learn from a social media fan base of close to 40 million, across three major platforms.

It is not as if all the fans are based in and around Chennai. No, they are spread wide, and willing to pay to cheer. The Yellow Wave and Whistle Podu gang are well known. They understand cricket, they love their players and worship them as  icons. To be sure, idol worship in Tamil Nadu has stretched beyond deities installed in temples, and embraced even famous politicians.

This franchise, in existence since 2008, faced a two-year ban thanks to a certainGurunath Meiyappan being hauled up by the Supreme Court of India over betting charges. Even then, though CSK was out of the IPL, there was no hatred aimed at the players. If that had been the case, MS Dhoni would have been forgotten by now.

But, no, he is the presiding deity for CSK, despite fast approaching his 43rd birthday. He remains the leader, Thala, as they say in Tamil.

Having grown up watching movies from the MGR (MG Ramachandran) and JJayalalithaa days – two superstars who went on to become Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu – this writer has seen what a cult following can mean in the state. 

Yet, if the Thala word was used most frequently, it was for none other than Tamil cine star Rajinikanth. If Thala Rajini is famous for the flicked matchstick being tossed into the sky and lighting a cigarette, his movie stunts have become part of folklore. In comparison, what Thala Dhoni has done is mellow, though he has lit up proceedings minus matchsticks. MSD has used the helicopter shot, the crazy dives to take catches and built a CSK team layer by layer.

It’s no secret if you take a look at some of the famous names from CSK, it’s not about the local connect. From Suresh Raina to Ravindra Jadeja, and Ajinkya Rahane to Tushar Deshpande, these are all CSK stars from outside the state of Tamil Nadu. This is the beauty of the CSK fans – they love the team, not the city from where the players emerged to become part of the Chepauk-based outfit.

Sample this. During IPL 2024, Vishali, a young lady who works with a private diabetes hospital in Chennai, had asked this writer if she could ever get to a CSK match live in her lifetime. Well, thanks to a RevSportz colleague, Vishali and her husband watched one match. “It’s a lifetime ambition fulfilled, to be watching a CSK match in yellow colours,” she said. Mind you, the match was on a week day, and she still made it on time, and posed for selfies. Who does she love? “Thala Dhoni, Saar,” came the answer.

You and I may think Dhoni’s shelf life is over.

In recent days, a video has gone viral where a 103-year-old Chennai man has received a signed yellow jersey from Dhoni. SRamdas became diabetic at 90. Yet, his interest in CSK is so high. He does not like to be addressed as a super-senior citizen. At heart, he is still a “young man” who watches IPL matches on television with passion.

His son askedif he (Ramdas) wanted to go to Delhi and watch the team play. He responded in Tamil, “I will walk to New Delhi.” This103-year-old, who served in the British Army in his youth, loves CSK.

These are just two examples. If you heard CSK fans on FM radio shows in 2022, when the team did badly, there were no cuss words. There was, instead, belief that the team would do well in 2023. Sure enough, Thala Dhoni won them the trophy.

In IPL 2024, anything can happen, even though Kolkata Knight Riders sitatop the points ladder. As for CSK, whatever happens, the fans will be loyal.  A city which used to worship only movie stars now bows before Thala Dhoni and his teammates. Has Gaikwad becoming captain changed things? Not really, they think Dhoni will be there forever.

Such a craze was associated perhaps with Diego Maradona, Muhammad Ali and a few more sporting icons. Dhoni, winning captain of two ICC World Cups,may be from Ranchi. But from Mylapore to Mambalam,and Marina Beach to Besant Nagar, if Dhoni ever decided to go on a Harley Davidson ride , be sure that the Chennai cops would not be able to handle the teeming CSK fans. This is pure, unconditional love,something that rarely exists even in real life.


MSD- CSK’s heartbeat (X)


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