IPL 2024: MS Dhoni, CSK's one-tournament wonder | Crickit

IPL 2024: MS Dhoni, CSK's one-tournament wonder

By, New Delhi
Apr 02, 2024 05:28 PM IST

At 42, most players are well into retirement. But Dhoni emerges every year, physically and mentally ready, to get CSK buzzing in IPL.

For Chennai Super Kings faithful, it was almost as if the result didn't matter. Just being able to watch MS Dhoni bat seemed to make the trip to the stadium worthwhile. The hair now long again had people commenting on how it felt like the 42-year-old had turned back time. It wasn't just that though, the power and timing of his shots was all there too.

Chennai Super Kings' MS Dhoni fields the ball during the Indian Premier League cricket tournament between between Chennai Super Kings and Gujarat Titans(AP)
Chennai Super Kings' MS Dhoni fields the ball during the Indian Premier League cricket tournament between between Chennai Super Kings and Gujarat Titans(AP)

It was the second home venue for Delhi Capitals -- Visakhapatnam. But it was Dhoni’s homecoming too. It was in Vizag, in an ODI versus Pakistan in April 2005, that the India team rookie served notice to the cricket world with a stunning 148.

Back to Sunday versus Delhi Capitals. The last over was a particular case in point. CSK needed 41 runs off six balls and the result was already beyond question. The DC bowlers had adopted a wide line all through the innings and it had worked brilliantly for them. Anrich Nortje bowled the first ball, full and wide. But Dhoni, waiting deep in his crease, smashed it through the covers.

That shot forced the fast bowler to reassess, and the second ball was a full toss. This time Dhoni tonked it over midwicket for six. The third ball was a yorker outside off-stump and the CSK legend hit it to long-off for no run.

The fourth ball was another full toss. This time it was smashed over mid-on. The fifth was a dot ball and the sixth -- and final ball of the match -- was dispatched high over cover for six. Dhoni finished on 37 off 16, showing that he can still be a force to reckon with.

But it wasn't the innings that was truly surprising. Rather, it was the fact that Dhoni, who plays just one tournament a year, can turn up and play at such a high level. The last time Dhoni batted in a competitive game before Sunday was in 2023. It was the final against Gujarat Titans, which CSK won.

A few days earlier, he had taken a nice diving catch; and his reading of the game remains as good as ever. He's fit and firing. So, how is he doing it? Conventional wisdom says a player needs regular game time to maintain a competitive edge. To keep your level up; to acquire the muscle memory and to stay match sharp -- it all requires a player to spend time in the middle.

That is true of most players but not of Dhoni. The CSK set-up helps. They don't push the players into compulsory training sessions. Rather, the onus is on the players to figure out what they need in their game.

In an interview to ESPNCricinfo, CSK head coach Stephen Fleming said that CSK's pre-season has got longer but the planning for a day or a session is left to the player.

"We're a big believer that as soon as the player wakes up, they're planning their day and that can be going to practice or not, which is one," said Fleming. “Two, if you go to practice, what do you want to achieve? And three, throughout the day, doing things that are going to make you better. Because training is optional, there are things that the players will be doing that will make them better -- work maybe on breathing or the mental side of the game, but if they choose to go to training and feel that training's what they want, they should have a clear plan themselves.”

Now, few players have been better at this than Dhoni, who starts training for IPL early as he feels he needs some volume to get a feel of the game by the time the season starts. Coming in from the cold cannot be easy, not even for Dhoni. So, he needs to plan every step of the way so that he is not disappointing himself and his fans.

The trick to this is understanding your role. Having clarity about that is where it all begins because then you realise the skills that need to be sharpened and where you need to physically be to support that requirement. It very much is a quality over quantity argument.

It is in many ways the template many senior Indian players can choose to follow. The big earnings are in IPL and giving a miss to the domestic season can ensure that the players have time to rest and recuperate, achieve a good ‘work-life’ balance and still play the game they love.

This, too, is the Dhoni way but following in his footsteps will be anything but easy. But as he has done before, the ‘Thala’ is showing the way.

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