Chennai: M.S. Dhoni is looking to bow out in style by winning the Indian Premier League with Chennai Super Kings for the fifth time - unless the 41-year-old cricket superstar stuns everyone and keeps going.
On Tuesday, skipper Dhoni’s tactical nous - at times controversial - again sealed the deal as CSK overcame the fancied Gujarat Titans by 15 runs to book a slot in Sunday’s final at the world’s biggest stadium in Ahmedabad.
With his finishing skills on the wane, a dodgy knee and his place in the batting order increasingly hard to justify, Dhoni has suggested on several occasions his retirement is imminent.
He again kept fans guessing, saying on Tuesday he would take until the auctions for the 2024 IPL in December to make his final decision.
“I will always be there for CSK whether in playing form or sitting somewhere,” he said.
“I don’t really know. But frankly, it takes a heavy toll.”
Victory on Sunday against either Mumbai, Lucknow or Gujarat - depending on the remaining play-offs - would be a fitting final achievement for a player who is second only to Sachin Tendulkar when it comes to fan adulation in cricket-crazy India.
Hard-hitting and always unruffled, India’s most successful skipper has many nicknames including “Captain Cool” and “Thala”, which means “leader” in Tamil.
First and foremost, he is a run powerhouse and finisher par excellence, but it is Dhoni’s style and humble beginnings that set him apart, and which were enough for a Bollywood biopic.
Dhoni spent his early years in a cramped one-bedroom government flat in Ranchi provided by his pump operator father’s employer.
The young Dhoni was passionate about sport and honed his skills playing tennis-ball cricket and borrowing bats and other kit from friends.
On his father’s insistence, he took a job at Indian Railways but the hectic routine of juggling between collecting tickets and playing cricket finally saw him break free.
In 2004, he made his India debut and in 2007, took over from Rahul Dravid as India’s one-day captain, the same year leading the national side to the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa.
In 2008, he became Test captain and won two home series against Australia, and in 2011 famously sealed winning the 50-over World Cup in India with a sumptuous, imperious six.
Along the way - with constant hairstyle changes, from shaggy to spiky to shaved - numerous endorsements saw Dhoni become one of world sport’s best-paid athletes, earning an estimated $31 million in 2015.
But he stunned the cricket world by quitting the five-day format in 2014 after finishing with 27 wins from 60 Tests as skipper.
He stepped down from the limited-overs captaincy in 2017 on the pretext of preparing Virat Kohli as leader, but continued to play a big part in the team’s decision-making process.
His last appearance for India was in their semi-final loss to New Zealand in the 2019 ODI World Cup.
He then briefly served with an army reserve unit, where he is an honorary lieutenant colonel, before announcing his international retirement.
But he hasn’t quit the IPL, at least not yet.
He captained CSK from the IPL’s first edition in 2008 and took the franchise to nine finals and four victories, most recently in 2021.
“There is no CSK without Dhoni and there is no Dhoni without CSK,” N. Srinivasan, the industrialist who owns the franchise, famously said after the 2021 triumph.
For Chennai fans - who go wild when he strides out to bat and cheer every ball - Dhoni is their one and only leader and his retirement would be a tragedy.
“They will not let him retire till he is 75,” commentator Harsha Bhogle said on the Indian website Cricbuzz.