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The legend grows, said Harsha Bhogle as Mahendra Singh Dhoni finished off a game in the last ball of the 20th over against Mumbai Indians. Internet went crazy and we were once again reminded of “Thala thala dhaan”. Keeping nostalgia aside, there is still little chance for CSK to make the playoffs. But, most importantly CSK learnt a valuable lesson. More on this later.

The match between CSK and MI was a cliff hanger. Two teams placed at the bottom this season reminded everyone why they are part of IPL folklore. The stadium was packed with sea of blue and yellow. Both the teams gave it all they had and produced the best match of the tournament so far. Of course both teams made a lot of mistakes but that’s what the game is all about. It was pure entertainer. And like CSK, MI also learnt a lesson: There is no substitute for experience.

Both sides usually relied on a fixed template and banked on experienced pros to deliver. And they did for over 12 seasons. Dhoni, Raina, Pollard, Bravo and Malinga carried their sides on their back. When age caught up to them, the team started to struggle. One can sprinkle all the flashy, charismatic youth but experience is the biggest asset in a T20 game. Experience comes in handy at the right time to shift momentum in a crucial match. That is why there was an air of inevitability when Dhoni came on strike on the 3rd ball of last over. It will take another 10 years or maybe more for some of the young guns to mirror or at least try to mirror the consistent way in which senior pros played their game.

And for Dhoni, this season is his last dance. The Emmy winning documentary of the same name looked back at basketball legend Michael Jordan’s last season 20 years later. When some day, behind the scene stories from CSK are chronicled, we might get to see the working of MSD the captain.

Captaincy can be nurtured. But last over power hitting that Dhoni introduced to the world cannot. Thala has scored over 300 runs in the 20th over across seasons. The greatest finisher in the game showed how to finish off a game, yet again. Many have tried and some like Dinesh Karthik have started to adapt to this finisher role for their teams. But last over finishing is a different ball game and CSK will miss Dhoni’s prowess once he decides to part ways. As long as he remains, the 41-year-old world cup winning captain will turn up for the franchise that is close to his heart.

Rayudu, Bravo, Uthappa, Ashish Nehra, Hussey, Shane Watson and Faf are a few names from the CSK past and present who wound the clock back in their late 30s. CSK will miss the loyalty and commitment that experienced pros offer. 

Now comes the double edged sword that CSK pin their hopes on – experience. So why do experienced pros get a second wind after coming to CSK ? The answer is simple: they are well looked after by team management. Robin Uthappa warmed the bench all season last year until finally getting a chance in the playoffs. In several interviews, he said disappointment was there but he never sulked as he was made to feel a crucial part of the team. The frequent team bonding exercises in CSK also break the ice for players coming from other franchisees.

When senior players retire, quite often they want to prioritise spending time with their families and loved ones. The hectic IPL schedule can cause burnouts. But CSK have always taken great care of the touring party: families, wife’s and children. When a team offers so many perks and instills belief in 35+ players, it acts as a catalyst to spur loyalty and bring their A game to every match they play. Rayudu, Bravo, Uthappa, Ashish Nehra, Hussey, Shane Watson and Faf are a few names from the CSK past and present who wound the clock back in their late 30s. CSK will miss the loyalty and commitment that experienced pros offer.

Let’s end this piece with an ode to Thala. What more needs to be said about a man who just roars back at doubters. Without captaincy burden Dhoni is enjoying the mentor role, playing second fiddle to Jadeja. But when CSK needed him, the lion stood up. Minor adjustment of the gloves, a look at leg side field and boom…straight back over bowler’s head for a 6 on the 3rd ball of final over. The game was won at that point. The last two balls seemed scripted.

When MSD plays his last game in Chennai, the city will be painted yellow. Teary-eyed fans will ask each other: Should we bow?


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