Mahendra Singh Dhoni relinquished the captaincy of the Chennai Super Kings ahead of Season 15 of the Indian Premier League. After the CSK endured a poor run, the captaincy was returned to Dhoni. Image Credit: AFP

Hark. Can you hear the whistling? The Whistle Podu (Blow the whistle) brigade is still at it. No, the Chennai Super Kings didn’t qualify for the playoffs; they finished just above the base of the IPL 2022 points table. So why’s the CSK fan army whistling?

They have been whistling since Friday evening, long before the game against the Rajasthan Royals started. After the toss, Mahendra Singh Dhoni confirmed that he’d be back next year. That’s when the whistling started, and it hasn’t stopped.

Whistling is an expression of joy for CSK fans. An outpouring of Yellove (the CSK hashtag, coined from yellow and love). A reciprocation of the love, shown by Dhoni.

The CSK skipper said he would return to play in Chennai next year and thank the CSK fans. Kind of farewell tour. “It will be unfair to not play in Chennai and say thank you… it wouldn’t be nice to the CSK fans. And also, hopefully, next year there will be an opportunity where the teams will be travelling, so it will be a like thank you to all the different places where we will be playing games at different venues.” These were Dhoni’s exact words.

Should captain CSK next year?

Now the moot question is: Should Dhoni comeback? If you are a CSK supporter, the answer will be a resounding YES. That won’t be the answer of a true cricket lover.

For a CSK fan, Dhoni is a deity. When you worship someone, it clouds your judgement. But the Whistle Podu brigade will be swift to point out the change in fortunes when CSK captaincy was returned to Dhoni.

True, Ravindra Jadeja was so weighed down by the mantle of captaincy that his performances dipped severely. Let’s face it: Jadeja is not a natural leader. He hasn’t led any team at the senior level. Good players need not make captains: Ian Botham, Sachin Tendulkar and Joe Root are some glaring examples.

Chennai Celebration
CSK players celebrate a dismissal in an IPL game in May 2022. Such celebrations were far and few in between as the CSK narrowly avoided the wooden spoon in the IPL standings. Image Credit: BCCI

Now Dhoni is a born leader. No dispute about that. An amazing communicator too. He does it quietly in an unostentatious manner. He may be a bit shy and retiring, but a sharp mind and steel will lie behind the cool and calm exterior. Little wonder CSK players lifted their performances, much to the delight of the Whistle Podu army.

That wasn’t enough, as inherent flaws remain. Even Dhoni couldn’t light the fuse for a late CSK charge for the playoffs. But don’t be surprised if Chennai return to win with the same squad next year. Of course, there will be tweaks, but the core will remain.

Should Dhoni return as captain? Reports say that he will captain the CSK next year. That will be a shame because it will be another missed opportunity to groom his successor. And the Jadeja fiasco will be repeated. The times has come for the Chennai franchise owners to look beyond Dhoni. So I’m betting on a new captain.

Now that brings us to the question: If Dhoni is not the captain, does he deserve a place on the team? NO, is my firm answer. Look at Dhoni’s batting this year and last year, and you will understand what I mean. Study the stats and tell me if it was another player, will he retain his place?

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Dhoni came good in a handful of matches this year; he even did his finishing magic in one of the games. But is that enough? I don’t think so. I think it will be a disservice to CSK if Dhoni continues to perform in this vein.

Calling time on careers is very tricky. Dhoni timed it perfectly in Tests, but his international white-ball career went far beyond its expiry date. So seems to be the case in the Indian Premier League.

Dhoni need not part with CSK. If he hangs up his gloves and plays the mentor’s role, he doesn’t have to bid farewell to his fans. It will be a farewell to his struggles in the middle; it was a sorry sight on Friday.

For the CSK fans, Dhoni is a legend. A captain who won them four IPL titles. A batsman who conjured improbable wins. They still need him, but not his struggles. That doesn’t befit a legend.