MS Dhoni has not shut the door on continuing as a player with Chennai Super Kings beyond IPL 2021, though he said that the final decision would be taken keeping in mind what would work best for the franchise, given the upcoming auction will offer franchises - including two new ones - the chance to majorly revamps their squads.
"We have to decide what is good for CSK, you know. It's not really about me being there in the top three or four, whatever the retained number of players is," Dhoni told host broadcaster Star Sports, after having lifted his fourth IPL trophy with a 27-run win against Kolkata Knight Riders. "It's about making a strong core and making sure the franchise doesn't really suffer, because it will be an auction where you have to make a team for the next ten years. Definitely in 2008, the core group carried on for more than ten years. We'll have to have a hard look as to... in the next ten years, who are the people who will contribute in a similar manner."
The BCCI hasn't yet released details of the retention rules for the eight existing franchises ahead of this mega auction, scheduled for January 2022, and how much of the auction purse retaining players will eat into. Given the cycle of mega auctions, the next one after 2022 is unlikely to take place before 2025, and Dhoni seemed to be suggesting that Super Kings ought to make a pragmatic decision and retain those players around whom a long-term core could be built.
However, when congratulated on the legacy he was leaving behind at Super Kings - with four titles, nine appearances in the final, and qualification for the playoffs in every season they participated in except 2020 - Dhoni enigmatically said: "But still, I haven't left [it] behind!"
Earlier this season, too, Dhoni had said: "You'll see me in yellow next season but whether I'll be playing for CSK you never know."
Reflecting on the period of sustained success he and the franchise have had, Dhoni said being clinical in the playoffs had been crucial.
"Every final is special. But also, if you start looking at the stats, you may say we are the most consistent team that loses in the finals. Because that is also a fact. But there have been a few finals where we lost because of that one brilliant performance or a span of 15 minutes where something happened and we lost the game.
"I feel it's very important to come [out] strong, especially in the knockout stages. Give performances where you don't let the opposition creep into the game. That's something that we made a conscious attempt to do. I hope that in the coming seasons, CSK will be known for that: when you've got a chance to win the game you know, very plain and simple, win it and move forward."
Dhoni hasn't been known as one to engage in long team meetings and strategy sessions, and he said that was the way he had operated in IPL 2021 too, using Super Kings' practice sessions as opportunities to talk to the players.
"We don't really talk a lot. It's more one-on-one conversations," Dhoni said. "I feel our practice sessions are more like meeting sessions also. It's more relaxed, people are more open and they talk and we see as to what is really happening. The moment you get into a team room and start talking about stuff, there is a different sort of pressure. As cricketers, I feel 20 minutes is the maximum we can have the concentration for. I feel our practice sessions have been really good and that's where we have communicated very well with the players.
"You can't really win without having a good team. But also individuals. Once you get into the knockouts, it changes from a team sport. It also becomes an individual sport. You may come up with ten minutes of special performance and that can really help you win the game. It is a team sport, but the moment you get into the knockout, [you need to] make sure that if you are somebody who is doing well, you keep doing well. And if you have not contributed a lot, it could be the one or two performances that really help the team win the trophy."
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo