A couple of subtle taps on the turf. The front leg gently moves forward and back in a flash, and bang goes the ball off the bat, deep into the stands.
The euphoric response to M.S. Dhoni’s thunderous six over long-on at 8:25 pm at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Monday almost felt like the Chennai Super Kings captain had pulled off another masterful chase for the Yellow Army at home.
CSK’s first open practice session in over four years in Chennai received a massive response from the fans as a huge crowd turned up despite the impromptu announcement from the team. After weeks of practice behind closed doors, the four-time Indian Premier League (IPL) champion announced its decision to open the stands at 5 pm on social media.
Fans were quick to react as they filled up the designated C, D and E stands within another hour and a half. Moeen Ali, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devon Conway were among the first to surround the nets erected at the main wicket at the centre. While Gaikwad and Conway put in the hard yards inside, Moeen focused on sharpening his pulls and hooks with a tennis ball drill.
WATCH: Chennai Super Kings practice session highlights
However, the entire weight of the crowd tilted to the extreme left as they looked up towards a window where Dhoni having a light gym session in the revamped infrastructure at Chepauk.
After a brief warm-up session and net practice, CSK opted to have a low-intensity practice game. Ruturaj and Conway padded up and strode back to the middle. The duo played some exquisite shots down the ground before Dhoni quietly walked out and sat just outside the dressing room.
The raucous fans began to grow impatient when Ravindra Jadeja and Shivam Dube firmed up a stand in the middle. “ Dei, takku nu out aagu da dei (hey get out quickly),” a few of them flippantly screamed as they eagerly waited for Dhoni’s entrance. It would be his first appearance with the bat before the fans in the city since his international retirement.
The 41-year-old, however, initially seemed hesitant to put on his pads as he stiffly rose to walk back inside. Dhoni returned with his gear and a camouflage kneecap to partially shield his left leg. He spent about five minutes pressing his leg towards the ground, seemingly assessing his condition.
And as Dube finally holed out to a catch at long-on, Dhoni walked out to the middle with a careful pace, shadow-batting on the way. Dhoni was keen on working against the back-of-a-length and short deliveries during the session and also attempted to connect balls well outside the off-stump.
Anything in Dhoni’s arc was buried deep into the stands. However, he was not at his fluent best as he flat-batted the short balls. Dhoni was caught twice during his first hit: a slice to deep point and a top-edge to short-fine leg.
However, what might concern the Super Kings more would be Dhoni’s gingerly running between the wickets, four nights out from their first game. The CSK skipper continued to feel discomfort in his knee as he often paused midway and limped to complete a run. Chennai is short on regular keepers behind Dhoni. Ruturaj, Conway and Ambati Rayudu offer a few part-time options.
Dhoni finished his first set by flicking a length ball to the deep mid-wicket fence for four. The fans attempted to lure him from his seat outside the dressing room. A subdued ‘Thala’ eventually offered a couple of handwaves to partially fulfil their appetite.
CSK’s star signing Ben Stokes also witnessed a huge reception as he tonked the bowlers for towering sixes down the ground. However, Dhoni’s second return to the crease gave the fans their parting gift as the gates were closed behind them by 10 pm.
Dhoni, Jadeja and Ali later opted for a rotational session against the sidearm throwers before wrapping up.
Meanwhile, the authorities had a tough time controlling the crowd after a decision on short notice. Fans barged into the newly-built Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi stands to get a closer glimpse of Dhoni, who was seated right beneath them. Strong police intervention was eventually required to clear and redirect the crowd back to the designated slots.
The reaction has also prompted CSK to opt against another session for the fans on Tuesday before they fly out to Ahmedabad for the tournament opener against Gujarat Titans.
Latest on Sportstar
- Ravi Dahiya pulls out of from Bishkek Ranking Series after injury during warmup
- Mbappe targets Ligue 1 scoring record with PSG next season
- Sanjivani Jadhav finishes second in women’s 10,000m at Portland Track Festival
- WTC Final 2023: Cameron Green hopes to bring in Rohit Sharma’s calmness in title clash
- McIlroy tied for lead at Memorial by making fewest mistakes