Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s ultimate cricketing days will be spent in the bright yellow jersey of the Chennai Super Kings. He said adios to the Test whites long ago, and he did the same with the blue jersey on Saturday. The latest announcement was lacking the shock value the first increment of his retirement instalment generated, that came in the middle of an overseas tour. This was more a question of when than if, as his departure was imminent after his extended aloofness from the national side post the World Cup in England last year.
As Dhoni the international cricketer fades, Dhoni the franchise icon shines. Now, Dhoni is all CSK’s, just as CSK was all Dhoni. A club he forged on his ideals, a club he nurtured with his leadership. It’s for these reasons they call him “thalai”. Literally it means head, figuratively it means leader, a term that conveys awe, respect and love. And as they say in Tamil, “Thalai illanal udal eppadi?” Without the head, the body is a vacuum.
Much of how the last years of his career will unfold is bound to belief, but this much is sure. CSK needs him perhaps more than he needs CSK. For he gives them not just star value, but an identity. No other team in the league, which will just step into teenage next month in the Middle East, can boast of as clear or fierce an identity as CSK. They have Dhoni to thank for it, and they require him for the sustenance of their sporting as well business model. The club’s identity will disintegrate once he leaves. Everywhere you look, his fingerprints are visible — in the togetherness of the team, the coolness of their approach, and their indefatigability in adversity. It would not be blasphemous to say that CSK embody the ideals of Dhoni more than both his World Cup-winning teams. No doubt, he leaves Indian cricket with a unique legacy that would be tough to match, but he would leave CSK with an even more unmatchable legacy.