Chennai Super Kings, one of the most successful teams in the Indian Premier League, is also one of the League’s best supported sides.
Former Indian captain M. S. Dhoni, who has been at the helm of CSK since its inception in 2008, is no doubt the team’s talisman, commanding a cult-like following, which can rival those of the Tamil movie megastars.
As Dhoni made his way back to a cricket ground – post a long 239-days hiatus – on March 2 to get into the groove for IPL 2020, the Chennai fans were out in numbers to welcome back their ‘Thala’
The frenzy refuse to die down and even on day three of the practice camp, the scene remains pretty much the same, with thousands packing the lower stands of the Chepauk Stadium, jostling each other to find a vantage point to catch a glimpse of the skipper.
A loud cheer announces Dhoni’s entry as he saunters to the nets, accompanied by the team’s CEO K.S. Viswanathan.
Dhoni puts on his gloves and ambles along with three bats, before picking one to knock a few tennis balls around – he doesn’t hit them too hard, just nudging it away with a straight bat.
With an acknowledging wave at the crowd – which had telling effects on one’s ears – he takes guard. Medium pacer K. M. Asif’s first ball is a wide down the leg side; perhaps an indication of what a noisy Chennai crowd can do to a bowler’s psyche when they are up against the team’s leader. Karn Sharma bowls the second, and Dhoni slices it towards off.
The captain’s time in the middle is interrupted by a lucky fan, who has managed to dodge all the barriers and fall at the feet of Dhoni, stealing a quick hug before the policemen whisk him away.
The ‘Dhoni! Dhoni!’ chant continues and four balls later, the player unleashes the helicopter shot over the bowler’s head to raise the din further.
Dhoni’s long-awaited return to the cricket field – post the 2019 World Cup semifinal loss to New Zealand, where a fiery throw from Martin Guptill ended his and India’s run at the packed Old Trafford – is a moment of celebration for these fans.
They are not bothered by rumours or speculations of an impending retirement. They just want to see their ‘Thala’ bat.
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