As he returned to his ‘second home’ on Friday morning, Mahendra Singh Dhoni admitted that he was approached by many other franchises for the Indian Premier League, but he chose to come back to his old side -- Chennai Super Kings.
“Yes, a lot of people approached me, I can tell you that. But, you know, I can’t think of not coming back to CSK,” Dhoni, who captained the Chennai outfit from 2008-2015 said, making it clear that it was a natural choice for him.
In a chat with the scribes, the former India captain got all candid.
Was coming back to CSK the most logical choice?
A lot of people approached me, I can tell you that. I can't think of not coming back to CSK. As I said, it's because of everything. What we have been as a team, how we have conducted ourselves, how the management has been, how the players have been, how the fans have been... I always keep saying ‘it's like a second home to me.’ The fans over here have adopted me; they accept me like one of their own. There can't be any bigger compliment than that. Yes, we have got fans everywhere. Wherever I go, whether I bat, field, bowling... doing anything, I get the love and appreciation but this is a special place. So that thought of being with any other franchisee was never a question.
CSK may be out for two years, but what are the team’s biggest strengths?
Our biggest strength has always been our fans. There is a lot of excitement. As far as the composition is concerned, we have retained three players, who could solve the purpose the best. So, we have retained a keeper and two batsmen—who can also bowl. A lot of area is covered when it comes to top-order, we don’t have to go more left-handers. If the need arises, we may go for it, but a lot of areas is covered. T20 cricket is all about that. Who we get in the auction, that becomes tough to see as of now because if we are looking for a few players, a lot of other franchises are also doing the same. Once you have retained, you have that equation of keeping the price bracket in mind. If we desperately want someone and his price goes slightly up, then there is (a problem). We have to make a whole team. We have to have a good strength of minimum 18 or 19 or 20 players. All those things become a factor and once we get a stack of players, who will come when (in the auctions), we will have a slightly more clarity, but as of now, it is very difficult to say who we will get or who we would not. All the franchises are looking to make a very strong team and in the past we have seen that a lot of players who have been part of CSK are targeted very strongly. We may have to keep the emotions aside, we may want somebody but if the price goes outside our range, then we will actually have to let him go because if we put in more money there, we may not make a complete side. So, that’s the adaptability factor we need to have at the auction table. It will be turning at that point of time, so we will have to wait and watch. But again, whoever we get, we will make sure that he has got potential and can entertain the spectators and the fans.
Despite controversies, you never tried to distance yourself from CSK or India Cements...
I had no clue which franchise I would go for when the IPL began in 2008. From there till the last match (in 2015), we became stronger as a team. I talk about the whole management. All those play a crucial factor. One of the things is—cricket is not new for franchise owners. As a captain, it becomes easy. It becomes difficult when you have to explain everything. So when we lose, they already know the reasons why we lost because they understand the game. So there is less pressure on you.
We were clear what we want is cricket. Everything else takes a backseat, whether it was trying to get money out of endorsement. We respect our fans but we never did an outstanding campaign only for the fans. We knew if we take care of our cricket, the fans will be there. This side of the country has a strong understanding of the game. We have the biggest fan base across the country.
The challenge will be to start from scratch. After 10 years there is fresh auction and we will have fresh challenges. We have had tough times, but we always got the support needed from the players and management. We had few players from other franchise but we were able to do something because of which they did very well for us. Even players whom we had to let go always appreciated their time spent here.
Do you think the two-year absence will have an impact on the CSK brand?
The last two years we were not there, our fan base got stronger because none of the players were involved in anything. Often when some mistake is made, people bear the brunt and the team has to bear the brunt of whatever happened. But the players were cleared of all the controversies.
In the two years you were out of CSK, what are good lessons you have learnt and what are the bad lessons you would want to avoid?
What doesn’t kill you makes you strong. Definitely I am stronger. The whole of eight editions we qualified. But in those last two years, we were seventh once. It was a big learning curve for me and Stephen Fleming. Since he took over, we have always done well. Yes there were times we were under pressure needing to win four out of five but we have done it. But how do you know you are strong unless you are pushed into deep end?
Those two years made me stronger and gave a glimpse of what can be done when you do badly. It doesn't always work but you have a perspective for it. It is not something that I have not seen. I have seen ups and down when I was part of the national side where we didn't perform well when travelling. You have to know the reasons why you are not doing well. When you know the reasons, you can actually address the problem but you have to accept the reasons also. So I would say it was a fair experience for me and at the same it is good to be back over here with slightly less pressure. But there is always pressure when you play cricket.
In the auction, the franchises will know who you may be targeting. So, how do you guard against deliberate inflationary tactics? So would you be going in for another core group keeping in mind future?
That's the thing we will have to be watchful about. It's always a strategy and as I said we need to have the right mix because there will be an auction next year as well. You can always supplement players. Whichever areas you feel slightly weak, you can buy and trade a few players to get stronger in those areas. But the core group remains to be strong and that's what we will try to retain. But like you said, there may be inflation and so on. That's why I said we need to keep emotions to the side. If you back off one player that has had an inflated price, none of the teams are going to take him further at that point of time. Whom you may lose depends on the auction but as I said we won't get all. We have never gotten all. Some of the players who performed for us, their prices went high so much there was no way we could have gotten them back. Also when you retain players, you lose a big chunk of money. So we have to see everything. What we also want is to have to a strong connection with the local boys and at the same time people who have played for us. I always felt that people were like ‘there shouldn’t be any retainership and stuff like that’.
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If I had played for 8 different franchises in 10 years then the association isn't there. But you want that sort of association, the franchisee to have a fan following. And that can only happen if the players stay in one franchisee for a longer duration. If you still don't want retainership after 10 years one of the ways is to say, ‘okay, we have goofed up in three auction right from the first auction. In fact four auctions… We still don't have players to retain from that group. We have been stupid’. But nobody says that. Anybody who doesn't want a retainership, they have to believe that these are the reasons. Because if you have a core group, you will retain once you have worked with them. Just because I have not done a good job doesn't mean some of the other franchises have not put effort. They have time to understand. Retainership is a good thing but who will get from now on in Right To Match (RTM) and so on will be very difficult to predict.
You left captaincy to Steven Smith last year. How big a challenge will it be for you to get back in that mode again?
You know, I never captained any team before I became captain of the Indian cricket team (smiles). So that itself answers the question. And the second thing is that a wicketkeeper is always a vice-captain, irrespective of whether he is a captain or not. He is somebody who is in a position where he watches the game very closely. So he understand the angles, understands how the bowler is bowling, what is the pace of the wicket, how the batsman is batting and so on. I don't think it is a difficult job. I think before a few of us -- wicketkeepers started captaining the side -- it was regarded as too much of a burden. Oh, they already have too much burden. Why do you want to burden the keepers more with giving them captainship? But stats have proved that keepers have actually been very good captains. Maybe because they are so close to the game, they understand what the problem is. They understand what the bowler is going through, so they actually have very good analysis. I feel it shouldn't be a problem. But again, you need to have a good team. If the resources aren't good, it doesn't matter who the captain is, be it Ricky Ponting or Steve Waugh or Clive Lloyd. So you need to have a good, strong team.
Some of the stumping you effected in the last few years were spectacular. What's the secret behind your stunning reaction time?
I think it’s the unorthodox keeping style that I have got. Stephen Fleming always says that he has never seen me keep wickets in net sessions in his nine years of IPL coaching. I think a lot of it needs to be done in the mind. When you are committing an error that’s when you go back and work on your basics. Keepers don’t really need a lot of catching. I have seen over exaggeration from some keepers; they start going on the floor, ‘very frog style’ of keeping and ‘jaw is parallel to the floor’… What is a keeper supposed to do? You can drop 100 balls, but whenever there is a catch you take it and whenever there is a stumping opportunity you effect it. That’s what needed. You don’t want a very good keeper (technically sound) who is not consistent. You want a very bad keeper who keeps fumbling, but takes catches, effects stumping and helps captain set the right field.
A lot of times, we have seen the complexity of people saying that we need the keepers to look good and a lot of noise shouldn’t come out of his glove. Let’s be practical. Cricket is about taking wickets, scoring runs and taking catches. People say when you go through a rough patch, your sound technique will help you get back into form. At the same time, you have to adapt and know your limitations, which is more important than striving to achieve perfection. It may not work for everyone, but it has worked for me. In the history of cricket, there should, at least, be one batsman who is so good in technique having never got out. But there is none! Cricket is the only game where there is no need for perfection. In golf, you have to hit straight; table tennis and tennis, you have to keep the ball in field of play. It’s only cricket that allows you to play 360 degree. It doesn’t matter whether you play in the V. It’s a simple sport, but we make it complicated.
There is a talk that you might meet Rajinikanth. How true is that?
I would love to meet Rajinikanth again, but I am busy with other commitments today.