MS Dhoni
MS Dhoni plays a shot during the Indian Premier League cricket match in Bengaluru on May 18, 2024. Dhoni played all 14 league games for Chennai Super Kings, scoring 161 runs at a strike rate of 220.55. Image Credit: AFP

Hark! Can you hear the whistling? That’s from the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, the home of the Chennai Super Kings. They call it Ambuden (with love, in Tamil).

Every time CSK play in Chepauk, the stadium is bathed in a sea of yellow flags as the Whistle Podu (blow the whistle) army of supporters pack to the rafters. The decibel levels surge when Mahendra Singh Dhoni strides to the crease. A collective roar passes through the stands every time a six soars into the night sky from Dhoni’s bat.

Dhoni and Chepauk share a unique bond — a bond of love and respect. The cricketer from Ranchi is Chennai’s adopted son. He is a hero, a superstar, and the captain who led CSK to five titles in the Indian Premier League. That’s the stuff of legends.

The legend of MS Dhoni

The legend of Dhoni has grown with every passing year since he first turned out for Chennai in 2008. CSK fondly call him Thala (leader, in Tamil), and he’s led the team for 14 seasons — Chennai were suspended in 2016-17, and Ruturaj Gaikwad took over the reins this year. In 2022, Ravindra Jadeja led CSK for six games before handing back the captaincy to Dhoni, who steered them to the championship the following year.

The move to make Gaikwad captain sparked reports that Dhoni is preparing to ride into the sunset. The 42-year-old has been batting lower down the order but continued to provide robust finishes in the last three overs. Dhoni scored a 16-ball 37 against Delhi Capitals, a four-ball 20 against Mumbai Indians, a nine-ball 28 against Lucknow Super Giants and another 11-ball 26 against Gujarat Titans. All of them were unbeaten innings.

Visions of a similar knock loomed at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Saturday when he carted Yash Dayal for a towering six. The Royal Challengers Bengaluru bowler struck back with the next ball, and with Dhoni’s departure, CSK slumped to a defeat that knocked them out of the playoffs.

That wasn’t the finish Dhoni wanted. Not the finale the Chennai fans expected. There won’t be a final flourish in Chepauk — no IPL title for CSK.

Last year, Dhoni had spoken of his desire to play the last match in Chepauk. The loss in Bengaluru threw Dhoni’s plans into disarray. A qualification to the playoffs would have allowed Dhoni to bid farewell to the yellow brigade in a stadium awash with CSK colours.

Why Dhoni will return

As soon as Dhoni caught a flight to Ranchi, reports of his possible retirement surfaced. A senior CSK official rubbished them, saying that Dhoni hasn’t spoken about retirement at all.

I won’t be surprised if Dhoni turns up for the IPL next year. Why? He’s done quite well this year, playing all 14 matches, keeping wickets and scoring 161 runs at a strike rate of 220.55, besides belting 13 sixes. Dhoni’s running between the wickets too was superb; there was no sign of discomfort. He seems to have recovered well from last year’s knee surgery. So why wouldn’t he play IPL 2025?

There’s also some unfinished business: a farewell in front of his adoring fans at Chepauk. The IPL trophy would make a good prop. So I expect Dhoni to return to the CSK camp.

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But Dhoni always plays his cards close to his chest. I wouldn’t be surprised if he announces his retirement. That would be very unlikely. He has an emotional connection with Chennai fans. He wouldn’t want to let them down.

Dhoni’s retirement is an event for CSK fans. M. Chinnaswamy Stadium will be decked out in yellow for a proper farewell. Tears, there will be aplenty, but Dhoni will walk away with dry eyes. Captain Cool, they called him for a reason.

Chennai fans will miss him. Indian cricket too.