CHENNAI: At 2:35 PM on Thursday, 51 hours before their first game of the Indian Premier League season 15 opener against Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings revealed what has been a secret that has been waiting to be made public for nearly four months.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni will not captain the franchise anymore. The chosen one is Ravindra Jadeja, their 33-year-old all-rounder, one who Dhoni deemed fit enough to get the highest pay bracket when retentions were announced in December.
A simple press release stated: "Passing on the baton." Like every big announcement Dhoni has made, even this didn’t have any drama or noise.
The only surprising bit was the timing. Two days before the season begins, the franchise will have a new permanent captain for the first time in its history since Dhoni wore the No 1 cap in 2008. After winning four IPL titles and two Champions League T20 titles, 'Thala' has decided to move on just three months short of turning 41. From the outside, the question on every CSK faithful’s lips is why did their 'Thala' leave it till the eleventh hour.
The official announcement might have come now, but it was a move that has been long coming. It may sound surprising but the indications had been getting brighter since the day Dhoni clinched the fourth IPL title in Dubai last October. As the rest of the team was celebrating their win, Dhoni took time out to click photographs with each and every member of the support staff and their family. It led to speculations, but the franchise remained affirmative that he would continue as captain in 2022 too.
However, during India’s tour of South Africa, players and coaches outside the team's set-up got the first hang of Dhoni moving on. Although Jadeja missed the tour with an injury, the all-rounder had by then informed a few of the CSK players in the set-up about the possibility of him taking over as the captain.
Dhoni informed Jadeja in December
Although Dhoni mentioned his intention to step aside only on Thursday afternoon after a conversation with N Srinivasan, the MD & VP of India Cements, the company which owns the franchise, he wasn’t throwing Jadeja into the deep end. It is understood that Dhoni made his intentions known to Jadeja in December when the all-rounder was undergoing rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. While all of it is understood to have happened without the knowledge of the franchise, it is also another example of how they operate. The team begins and ends with Dhoni. This is yet another episode that has highlighted it.
The time also allowed Jadeja to grow into the role. “He informed us only in the afternoon, there were no prior indications from Dhoni’s end,” CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan told this daily. “He spoke to Srinivasan Sir, whom he considers his mentor, and then he communicated to the group. He believes the time is right for the team to undergo a transition and we know he will always take a decision only in the best interest of the team,” he added.
In fact, even ahead of the player auction, there were strong whispers within the franchise that Dhoni will not captain this season and they will be on the look-out for his successor. But such is the auction dynamics that the franchise was also concerned how any such announcement could derail their plans. In fact, with the future in mind, the franchise did explore a few options, but none of it eventually materialized.
But, the past few months would have also allowed Jadeja to prepare for the road ahead mentally. For a player, who hasn’t captained even in age-group levels, Jadeja has huge shoes to fill. Dhoni, who is guaranteed to be in the dugout this season, will allow the franchise to have a smooth transition.
“Jadeja has been with us for 10 years now and knows our culture and the group. With Dhoni also still available as a player, the transition will be smooth and the franchise knows, Dhoni will be around to guide us this season and beyond,” Viswanathan said.