Jadeja is new CSK captain – The Dhoni-Chennai relationship can never be matched!

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The inevitable has happened. As always, no one expected it. Perhaps some anticipated it? From shocking press releases in 2014 and 2016, to an even more shocking Instagram post in 2020, somehow the intensity of surprise has lessened in 2022.

As Chennai Super Kings made the announcement official, there was general acceptance all round. It was time, everyone said, wondered or thought, in unison at that moment. MS Dhoni, no longer captain, in any format, anywhere, for any team. He will continue to play on for CSK in the IPL 2022 season, though.

Regarding that last bit, there is an interesting additional line in the CSK media release. A franchise official claims that Dhoni will continue to play for Chennai in the years to come, beyond 2022. You almost want to chuckle at that – nobody, not even Dhoni knows what he is going to do once this IPL season is done, much less a team official.

Also Read | MS Dhoni Quits CSK Captaincy: Take a Look at His Leadership Records Set in Last 14 Years

If Indian cricket has taught us anything over the last two decades, it is that Dhoni cannot be tamed. He was and remains an elusive entity – people have more access to Sachin Tendulkar’s affairs at present, than they do with Dhoni’s. For the longest time, Dhoni has positioned himself as the ultimate vagabond, caught in the mind and body of a cricketer.

You can hail from Ranchi and become the biggest superstar in a country of a billion cricket-mad people, and thereafter you can still remain an average-Joe at heart, beyond the grasp of this non-stop hoopla. Maybe, ‘Mahi’ became ‘Dhoni’ just to show us all that it is possible for an Indian cricketing god to do so.

A long time will pass before anyone comes close to matching his legacy on the international stage. And if you think that is tough, his legacy at Chennai Super Kings will probably remain unmatched forever. Dhoni was a calming influence for team India. For CSK, he was an emotion, raw and rampant.

Also Read: End of An Era at Chennai Superkings; Relive Top Five MS Dhoni Captaincy Moments

In 2008, Dhoni was a gamble for India Cements. He was part of the original eight marquee players in the first IPL cycle. Most others had their home grown players to bank upon – Mumbai Indians and Tendulkar, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rahul Dravid, Kolkata Knight Riders and Sourav Ganguly, for example. Chennai didn’t, and they needed to bet big on the players’ auctions. They went all in for the man who had led India to victory in the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa.

Some say Chennai wanted Virender Sehwag, but opted for Dhoni instead. It was the right call. Sehwag is set in his ways – he is who he is. Dhoni has the ability to mould himself as per the environment he is in. Very few have that parallel detachment-attachment quality which helps them sustain in a situation like this, and establish a sense of belonging.

So, when all of Chennai, and CSK fans across the world, showered their collective love and adulation on Dhoni, he responded in kind. It was, and still is, a once-in-a-lifetime relationship, unadulterated at its core, because it came at the very beginning of this mega tournament’s storyline. The IPL may never see such a franchise-player bond ever again.

Of course, there are umpteen cricketing moments from the field to reflect upon, but maybe there is still some time left yet. From a leadership perspective alone, two of them stand out. One was when Dhoni said this in 2010, after smacking the erstwhile Kings XI Punjab to all parts of Dharamsala. “The franchise pays us a lot of money every year and it is our least responsibility to make the knockouts.” From a pure results-based business viewpoint, his words were golden.

The other was his stoic silence when questioned about the spot-fixing controversy in 2013. He was the Indian captain in that press conference, yes, but N Srinivasan was also the BCCI president. For good or bad, that silence reflected the staunch loyalty between Srinivasan and Dhoni. ‘Conflict of interest’ has never been the same phrase in Indian cricket since.

Now though, it is time to move on. As aforementioned, there were murmurs that something like this could happen. Dhoni himself suggested so considering the mega auction in February and with Ravindra Jadeja retained at INR 16 crore, four more than his price tag (INR 12 crore), there were hints aplenty. But Jadeja has not led a cricket team since his under-19 days for Saurashtra in 2007 and hence not many paid attention to this nugget of information.

From this juncture, there are two aspects to this captaincy transition. The first is from a CSK perspective. Was Jadeja included in the thinking process of getting the squad together again? Or, was he simply handed the captaincy reins afterwards? In the latter scenario, it really isn’t his team as such. And sporting history has shown that two different captains can have different ideas, different pathways even within a set environment. The fine print herein though is we won’t get to know, given how tightly CSK runs its ship.

It will thus be reflected only from CSK’s results this season, and henceforth. This is where the second aspect comes in, mostly from Jadeja’s perspective. His lack of captaincy experience means nobody really knows what to expect. The kind of free-spirited cricketer he is, Jadeja will not try to fill Dhoni’s shoes because nobody can. Even so, there is a good chance we will get to see some freewheeling captaincy moves, with Dhoni’s guiding hand never far away.

In that, Dhoni, after the late Shane Warne, is the only other person to have staunchly believed that Jadeja could become the cricketer he is today. It also explains why, in 2012, CSK paid a whopping INR 9.8 crore to acquire his services. It is again a gamble, like the one CSK made with Dhoni a long time ago. On the surface, it might appear to be a smooth leadership transition, but make no mistake, there is a lot at stake herein.

Jadeja is at the peak of his cricketing prowess, and a new challenge has been thrown his way. Will he come to terms with it, assimilate this responsibility and showcase a new level of ‘Sir Jadeja’ to the enthralled audiences? Or, will he buckle down under the captaincy pressure, like many others have in the past, and will that affect his individual prowess as well (a potential concern for team India)?

That, well, of course, is the big unknown.

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