MS Dhoni’s leadership, Jadeja’s nerve, tried and tested players: What makes CSK so formidable
Chennai Super Kings won their fifth Indian Premier League title, thanks to a final-ball boundary by Ravindra Jadeja to beat Gujarat Titans. Despite only lasting one ball in the final, captain MS Dhoni guided his team to the title, demonstrating why his leadership is worth its weight in gold. The Super Kings, a team crafted in the image of Dhoni, find heroes who have what it takes when it matters the most. They look for players with specific skill-sets and assign clear-cut roles, believing in experience and winning big moments.
It was a tense night, even by MS Dhoni’s standards.
As the clock struck 1.35am, Ravindra Jadeja stood resolutely at the crease despite the tension in the air.
A few minutes earlier, the Gujarat Titans were feeling rather optimistic about their chances. The equation had read: 10 runs needed, 2 balls remaining. But Jadeja had then smashed a straight six off a delivery in the block hole to give himself and his team a genuine shot.
In the dugout, Dhoni maintained his stoic facade as paceman Mohit Sharma ran in for the final delivery. But Dhoni desperately wanted this win, and Jadeja desperately wanted to win it for him.
Sharma, sublime so far in the death overs, strayed on the pads. Jadeja whipped the ball past fine leg, sealed the fifth Indian Premier League title for the Chennai Super Kings, and the men in yellow, as they so often do, found a way to fight the nerves in a rain-hit final that stretched across three days.
A delirious dugout chased after the hero of the moment, every bit a local as the beaten team Gujarat Titans at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, but Jadeja ran straight into the arms of Dhoni. And the skipper lifted him in celebration, shaking off the detached picture he presented even as the winning hit was racing to the boundary line.
The moment showed what it all meant to Dhoni, at 41 the oldest IPL winner, who has received a nationwide outpouring of love as the season progressed. There were doubts whether the icon would return for another edition, and Dhoni later said he might -- a dodgy knee permitting.
“If you see circumstantially, it’s the best time to announce the retirement. The easy thing for me to say is thank you and retire. But the hard thing to do is to work hard for nine months and try to play one more IPL season. The body has to hold up. The amount of love I have received from CSK fans, it would be a gift for them to play one more season,” he skipper said.
Though his own stay at the crease lasted one ball in the final, Dhoni had somehow guided his team to the title, once again showing why his leadership is worth its weight in gold.
CSK, a team crafted in the image of Dhoni, manage to do this year after year -- even if their squad never seems perfect, and there are gaps for opponents to exploit, they somehow find heroes who have what it takes when it matters the most.
It may be down to how CSK have found a different way of doing things, one that works for them and them alone. While other teams chase young talent and the stars, CSK look for players with very specific skill-sets. They believe in experience, in assigning clear-cut roles to players, and on winning the big moments.
In 31-year-old Devon Conway (672 runs at an average of 51.69), they found an unlikely replacement for Faf du Plessis, who they were unable to retain in the 2022 auction. He formed an opening partnership with Ruturaj Gaikwad that laid the foundation of their successful season. But even more surprising was the manner in which they coaxed Ajinkya Rahane out of his shell -- the right-hander scored 326 runs this season at a strike-rate of 172.49. Before this season, his best strike-rate had been 137.89. Similarly, Shivam Dube was the designated hitter against spin and his 35 sixes this season are more than double what he hit last season.
On the bowling front, the unhealded Tushar Deshpande claimed 21 wickets to keep CSK in the game. Matheesha Pathirana, with his Malinga-like slinging action, was the slog over specialist and his 19 wickets gave them a big boost as well. Jadeja chipped in with a career-best 20-wicket season and the others picked their moments.
This has led to consistency, which in turn has ensured that their fan base extends far and wide -- the sea of yellow in Ahmedabad bore evidence to that -- with something to cheer about almost every season.
So, when Dhoni took a victory lap of the stadium, arms raised and with a thumbs-up sign, half the stadium was still in attendance over two hours after the match had ended. Many were in tears.
“I’m very happy for Dhoni. Destiny had this written for him,” Gujarat Titans skipper Hardik Pandya, his dream of two back-to-back titles shattered, said later.
“If I had to lose, I don’t mind losing to him. Good things happen to good people and he’s been one of the best people I know. God has been kind to him, and to me as well -- but today was his night!”