Chennai Super Kings skipper MS Dhoni
Chennai Super Kings skipper MS Dhoni Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

Has Dad’s Army reached the end of the road? It would seem so. Especially if you read into M.S. Dhoni’s interview after Chennai Super Kings’ loss to the Rajasthan Royals on Monday. But the epitaph of CSK’s old brigade had been written several times in the past. And each time they thumped noses at us with spectacular victories. Will there be a last hurrah? Unlikely. Not on the evidence we have seen so far.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni wears a poker face on the field. He’s unaffected by the ebbs and flows of the game. But at the post-match chats, he’s very animated and goes into details by breaking down passages of play. His analyses dwell on what went wrong, the turning point, and how a specific strategy worked or backfired. It’s a delight to listen to him.

Over the past 12 seasons, IPL watchers have come to recognise the Dhoni’s special bond with Chennai. And his captaincy, which has conjured up victories and rallied from impossible situations. But in Monday post-match interview he seemed to have thrown in the towel.

“This season, we were not really there,” was how Dhoni put it. While that’s an honest assessment, it also gives the distinct feeling that the skipper believes the tournament is over for Chennai. That’s very unlike Dhoni. But there’s a lot of truth to it. Even if Chennai win the remaining games, their chances of making the playoff will depend on how other teams fare. Relying on all the permutations and combinations of possible results may not be the best way forward.

Where are the bright sparks?

What’s more perplexing was Dhoni’s comments on youngsters in the side. “…there were a few chances to the youngsters, and maybe we didn’t see the kind of spark that they could have given us to say, okay, push the experienced guy and maybe make some space for them.” This says that the youngsters didn’t make a strong case for their inclusion. That’s odd.

Rituraj Gaikwad and N. Jagadeesan were the only youngsters who played. And they didn’t get an extended run to gain confidence, which is usually the Dhoni way. Gaikwad played two games and Jagadeesan one. That’s not how Dhoni instils confidence.

When Kedhar Jadhav and Piyush Chawla were given ample opportunities, why didn’t Dhoni show the same consideration to Gaikwad and Jagadeesan? It just boils down to Dhoni’s trust in old hands. For him, experience matters. At least in the case of the Chennai Super Kings.

Why band-aids won't work CSK

It has worked for Dhoni and Chennai. So you can’t fault him. Three IPL titles are proof. But that strategy may have run its course. The three-spinner tactic too worked in the slower pitches of India. Here in the UAE, Chennai have been caught out.

So, what does that call for? Maybe, an overhaul. A rebuilding. That could be the best route to revive the side. But it’s difficult to see that happening with Chennai. They would rather change a brick here and add a bit more plaster there. That’s the Chennai style. The Dhoni style. That may not work any more. They still have the nucleus to make an excellent side, but will need an infusion of young blood. If that doesn’t happen next season, Chennai will be outrun by their rivals. Just like in the UAE.

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What happens to Dhoni? He hasn’t had a good IPL this season. The wicketkeeping was sound, but the batting was never authoritative. Dhoni knows it. So, will he bow out? No. Dhoni is not given to impulsive decisions. He will bide his time and arrive at a decision.

If the Whistle Podu fans are cheering for their Thala [leader] next year, don’t be surprised. Chennai and Dhoni share a special bond. So he’ll be there next year too.