There have been questions around his form with the willow and eyebrows have been raised on some baffling on-field decisions, not the least of which is his apparent unwillingness to bat up the order despite match situations calling for it. However, even with the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) missing out on a play-off spot in the ongoing 13th edition of the Indian Premier League and staring at a bottom-placed finish, the confidence that the franchise bosses had reposed in the leadership of their talisman Mahendra Singh Dhoni continues to remain unshaken and intact.
Sending out a clear message amid the buzz around MSD’s future at the helm of CSK, the franchise has confirmed that the Ranchi superstar will continue to lead the Men in Yellow in the next edition of the tournament. Speaking to Times of India, team CEO Kasi Vishwanathan said, “I am very confident that Dhoni will lead CSK in 2021. He has won three titles for us in the IPL. This is the first year we have not qualified for the play-offs. No other team has done that. One bad year does not mean we will have to change everything.”
While unambiguous in its import that the management continues to throw its weight behind Dhoni despite the franchise recording its worst IPL season to date, this year, the statement, which could be interpreted as the official line of the franchise, has also dismissed calls for a squad clear-out or wholesale changes in terms of personnel if the team has to rise from the ignominy of a bottom-placed finish in the next season of the domestic Twenty20 league.
Often labelled as the ‘Dad’s Army’ in certain sections of the media for packing the squad with retired overseas stars or players in the wrong side of their thirties, the CSK, as many put it, paid for over-reliance on its veterans this season. The ageing stars looked clearly short of a gallop as colts in rival franchises rode roughshod over them. Even as questions were raised on team selections and persistence with the ageing stars, the skipper said he did not consider playing the younger lot as he didn’t see ‘enough spark’ in them. However, as the team lurched from one defeat to another, it was plain to see that the move to field veterans over the younger lot wasn’t fetching the desired results.
It was after the thumping 10-wicket loss to Mumbai Indians at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium that realisation on where the CSK lagged rivals in the tournament this year seemed to dawn on the think-tank. Corrective measures, mostly in the nature of bringing in younger players and giving them key roles, in the next tie against Royal Challengers Bangalore fetched immediate results as the CSK snapped its run of losses with a commanding 8-wicket win over its high-flying opponent. Asked to launch the CSK innings, young Ruturaj Gaikwad played a matured hand, anchoring the chase of 145 and carrying his bat to the moment when the winning runs were hit. While his 51-ball 65 came too late to turn CSK’s fate in the tournament, it will have given a hint to the think-tank on what he brings to the team, should they persist with him next year.
While some chopping and changing may be in order in time before the IPL bandwagon rolls again next season, what is certain is that the CSK skipper continues to enjoy the confidence of the think-tank and franchise owners and will lead his men out in 2021. As to whether he would continue to have absolute authority and a free hand in matters of selection is something one would have to wait and watch.
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