"Definitely not."

With those words MS Dhoni assured the Chennai Super Kings fans that he is not retiring from the IPL. Dhoni, who retired from international cricket on August 15, said that he would be back next IPL, but admitted that it was time to revamp the Super Kings' core group at the next mega auction.

Dhoni had challenged the Super Kings to stay "relevant" in the competition after the three-time champions had become the first team to be eliminated from the play-off race this IPL. Although the Super Kings finished last, they managed to somewhat erase that disappointment with victory in their last three matches in the league phase including their final contest on Sunday against Kings XI Punjab.

Dhoni the batsman had his worst IPL as he managed just 200 runs in 12 innings at a strike rate of 116. Once the best finisher in the white-ball cricket, Dhoni was woeful and on several occasions this IPL as he failed to carry his team past the target.

Speculation about his future was trending on social media each time players from rival IPL teams posed with his No. 7 jersey. On Sunday Dhoni ensured twice, initially at the toss and then at the post-match presentation that he was going nowhere.

"May be they thought I'm retiring - you know retired from international cricket, may be I'll retire form the shortest form also,"Dhoni jokingly told Harsha Bhogle after the Super Kings' win. When Bhogle checked to confirm whether that was actually going to happen, with a smile and a nod, Dhoni said: "definitely not."

The Super Kings endured their worst IPL campaign on different fronts. First, the abrupt return to India of Suresh Raina, their vice-captain, who left the IPL bubble in the UAE in controversial circumstances, which led to the Super Kings' owner N Srinivasan to claim that the player would regret his decision

The challenge for Dhoni and Super Kings' coaching staff led by Stephen Fleming mounted after senior offspinner Harbhajan Singh opted out of the IPL due to personal reasons and never arrived in the UAE.

Further misery unfolded as Deepak Chahar and Ruturaj Gaikwad were among a group of more than a dozen in the Super Kings contingent to test positive for Covid-19, which robbed the squad of valuable training time.

Despite all that Super Kings got off to a winning start surprising defending champions Mumbai Indians in the tournament opener. However the losing run started soon and the slide was sudden and steep. Dhoni agreed that the "template" that his team found in the four wins at the back end of the tournament was missing in the first half.

"It was a difficult campaign for us. I don't think we played to the full potential. We did commit a lot of errors at different points in the tournament, but the last four games could be the template as to where we would have liked ourselves to be.

"Still, very proud of the way the guys played because seven or eight games in the tournament and if you are lagging behind too much it becomes very difficult to push yourself and come out with performances. That is where each and everybody had to contribute, and really proud the way they played cricket. It is not an easy one: you wouldn't want to be in a dressing room that is not really enjoying cricket. If the dressing room atmosphere is not happy then it becomes very tough."

Dhoni, though, said that the Super Kings will bounce back next IPL. "We will come back strong. That's what we are known for. Yes, this has been a tough year. Yes, we are eighth on the table. This is one of the seasons where most of the teams played well or you can say, okay, one team played brilliantly, which is Mumbai Indians, and the rest all played badly to be in a big cluster."

'Need to change core group'

According to Dhoni it was time for the Super Kings management to plan for the next decade and not focus on the next IPL. Part of that process, Dhoni pointed out, would mean an overhaul of the squad including building a new core group of players, who would be bought at the next mega auction.

The BCCI has not yet disclosed to the franchises when it plans to have that mega auction. Originally it was schedule to take place before the 2021 IPL. However with the next IPL scheduled for next April, it is more than likely the BCCI would conduct a mini auction.

"A lot depends on what the BCCI will decide about the auction,"Dhoni said on the Super Kings' future plans. "We need to slightly change our core group and look at the next 10 years. Because at the start of the IPL we made a team it served well for us for the next 10 years. There comes a time where you have to shift a bit, change a bit, and hand it over to the next generation.

"That's what will be the policy: try to form a strong core group and if there is a small or big auction, then each year complement players getting into the core group. That's where we lacked this season, we missed quite a few players, but that's something we will do in the next auction."

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo