In Dhoni land: talk about retirement, flagging skills lost amid fan fervour

For the crowd at Chepauk, indeed no other sight can quite match the sensory pleasures of watching Mahendra Singh Dhoni bat.

MS Dhoni had over a two hour-long stint at the centre wicket practice on Tuesday evening.

FILE PHOTO: MS Dhoni had over a two hour-long stint at the centre wicket practice on Tuesday evening.   -  K Pichumani

The afternoon sun was biting; soon it would be brutal. One hour before the scheduled start of practice at 4:30 p.m., the stands at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium were empty. As the time approached, the ground staff rolled the pitch and the sprinklers watered the outfield.

The stumps were erected and 15 minutes before 5:00, the gates opened. There were hundreds of fans, lining up despite the sultry heat.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni led a small group of players including Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Murali Vijay, Karn Sharma, Piyush Chawla and R Sai Kishore.

For the crowd at Chepauk, indeed no other sight can quite match the sensory pleasures of watching Dhoni: the sense of anticipation, drawn out, and ultimately so rewarding. In between overs, he would roll his shoulders, flex his neck, chat with the fielders.

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Every time Dhoni juggled the ball in his hands, the crowd cheered. Every time he turned around, hundreds of arms waved at him. The debates about the fading of skills and the timing of retirement were lost amid this din.

The fans had begun to build the noise and it reached a crescendo when Dhoni walked out to bat. He began by pulling a short ball away to the fine-leg boundary before clearing the front leg and launching a half-volley over long-on for six. But the biggest roar was reserved for a straight six and a fierce cut shot off Harbhajan Singh's bowling.

Dhoni had over a two hour-long stint during the centre wicket practice on Tuesday evening, keeping to the spinners including Harbhajan and quicks Asif and Monu. Vijay and Rayudu too spent nearly an hour batting.

The 2019 IPL runner-up will play the tournament opener on March 29, against defending champion Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Super Kings' first home game of the season is against the Rajasthan Royals on April 2.

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