When Harbhajan Singh finds himself among Chennai Super Kings and Ravichandran Ashwin makes the contrasting journey to be with Delhi Capitals, even as Wriddhiman Saha links his lot with Sunrisers Hyderabad, you assume, probably correctly, that the Indian Premier League’s adoptive homes must be a bit of all right. A laboratory test of national integration, perhaps. And yet no city seems to have been quite as fond of an adopted player as Chennai of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
At Ranchi, the former national captain is an object of intense curiosity ~ “One of us but so big we can only contemplate him,” a college girl said when India won their second 50-over World Cup ~ but Chennai simply dotes on him. For Tamil Nadu’s capital city, Dhoni is the Special One, as Jose Mourinho describes himself when humility deserts him.
A mere sight of Dhoni makes the basically conservative city effervescently happy. People glow in the face on spotting him whizzing past them on a motorbike in or around Anna Salai. The slightest bit of action by him on the field fuels the sort of speculation in the stands at Chepauk that might lead you to wonder if he will some day rival Rajnikanth in the state’s popular culture.
And inside CSK, Dhoni is what Sourav Ganguly is to Kolkata, a putatively infallible colossus. But those positive coronavirus tests in West Asia might have had Dhoni in a bit of a bother in that some people said CSK had not really wanted an IPL preparatory camp in Chennai with Covid-19 raging in the southern Indian metropolis
. The cricket control board too was far less than enthusiastic about the idea when it was broached to it. Dhoni, always his own man, was said to have insisted on it as he had not been able to tune up at Ranchi because of a sudden spike in Jharkhand’s coronavirus infections.
Months of will-he-won’t-he speculation in the media and outside it had ended with Dhoni hitting the nets when the virus struck, scuppering his plans. Whether or not the CSK infections had resulted from the camp in Chennai ~ and some officials denied they had had anything to do with the approval for it being wrung from the authorities of civic administration ~ it did not damage Dhoni’s standing within what N Srinivasan called the CSK family.
This partnership has been crucial where Dhoni is concerned. But there is also something else to it. The wicketkeeper-batsman has shed his leadership as well as participatory roles across all formats globally, retreating in a calculated, measured way from international contests and is now left only with the IPL, where CSK have promised him a berth as long as he wants it. Since Dhoni, for obvious reasons, can only want to prolong the association, he had better watch his own step.