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Chennai Super Kings' players celebrate with the trophy after defeating Gujarat Titans in the Indian Premier League final in Ahmedabad on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s future as a player for Chennai Super Kings has been the subject of speculation at the start of Season 16 of the Indian Premier League. So CSK supporters thronged the 12 venues in the belief that this will be his final season.

After winning a record-equalling fifth IPL title, the Chennai skipper said he might play one more season as a gift to the legion of fans.

Last-ball thriller

“Circumstantially if you see, this is the best time to announce my retirement. But the amount of love and affection I have been shown wherever I have been this year, the easy thing would be for me to say ‘Thank you very much’, but the tough thing for me is to work hard for another nine months and come back and play at least one more season of IPL. A lot depends on the body, I have 6-7 months to decide. It will be more like a gift from my side, it’s not easy for me but that’s a gift,” he said after CSK beat the Gujarat Titans in a last-ball thriller in the final.

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Dhoni lifts Ravindra Jadeja after hitting the winning runs against Gujarat Titans. Image Credit: Source: CSK Twitter

Annoying captain

Although that’s good news for CSK’s supporters, Dhoni’s presence is equally important for the team’s future?

As captain, Dhoni is peerless. He plots moves incessantly and makes subtle changes by rotating bowlers and altering fielding positions constantly. After winning Qualifier 1 against Gujarat Titans, he said: “I can be an annoying captain as I keep moving the fielders a couple of feet to the left and right.”

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Chennai will have to groom another leader before Dhoni hangs up his gloves. Right now, there’s no other strong leader in sight. The experiment with Ravindra Jadeja last year has been disastrous. So Dhoni will have to be around till CSK finds a leader to take over.

Good form

Since CSK is in a transition phase, Dhoni’s presence at the helm is vital. With Ambati Rayudu retiring and the arrival of youngsters like Deshpande and Matheeksha Pathirana, he will be required to mentor them. Even players likes Ajinkya Rahane, Shivam Dube and Maheesh Theekshana blossomed under Dhoni’s leadership.

Rahane’s good form is a reason to celebrate since he could be a candidate for captaincy, if the team management don’t want to burden young Ruturaj Gaikwad with the additional responsibility. As captain, Rahane had led India to victory against Australia by ending their unbeaten run at the Gabba during the 2020-21 series.

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Chennai Super Kings supporters cheer for skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni on Monday. Image Credit: ANI

Dhoni the finisher showed this season that there’s still plenty of runs left in him. His presence later in the order is a constant worry for rivals as Dhoni can deliver thunderbolts in the slog overs and wrest the initiative from the opponents.

Invaluable insights

Wicketkeepers are like captains. They provide invaluable insights into the rival batters’ strengths and weaknesses. With Dhoni keeping wickets, he is in the prime spot to analyse the game and make swift and decisive decisions.

The only worry is Dhoni’s fitness. He played Season 16 on one foot, after injuring his knee during a practice session before the start of IPL 2023. At 41, it is not easy for Dhoni to maintain his fitness as injuries take a bit longer to heal.

But Dhoni still has unfinished business at the CSK. As a leader, mentor, finisher, wicketkeeper, coach and strategist, he has the task of making the team stronger. That’s his future as CSK. He is their thala (leader).