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MS Dhoni - 'Without character, you can't come back like this'

CSK's captain lauded the "support staff and each and every individual" after a difficult 2020 IPL season

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
Last year, when Chennai Super Kings crashed out of the IPL in the league stage for the very first time in their history, MS Dhoni told the fans that they would come back stronger. This year, they were the first to book a spot in the playoffs and now they're in their 11th tournament final. Having got them there himself with a nail-biting victory over Delhi Capitals, Dhoni explained how the hurt from 2020 has helped them in 2021.
"It's the full team. Because it was tough," Dhoni said. "Last year was the first time where we didn't qualify so the emotions were quite high. What was important was whatever game was left we wanted to make sure that we made the most use of it. Forget what has happened in the tournament, but those four games or three games we wanted to make the most of it and I felt a lot of batters made the most of that and that's the reason why we have come back strongly and also I think credit goes to the support staff and each and every individual because without their character you can't really come back like this."
Among the batters who have done so well is Ruturaj Gaikwad, 24, who is in the running for the top run-getter of the tournament and his captain has had a strong influence on his game.
"Whenever we have a chat, it's very plain and simple," Dhoni said. "I ask what is going on, what you were thinking because it is very important to understand how well he has improved over the period. And also his gameplan, as to, he's somebody who's willing to bat 20 overs. One of the games I spoke to him about, if you're an opener and if you get off to a good start, there's nothing that says you can only bat 10 overs or 12 overs. Why can't you bat 18, 19 or 20 overs? Right after that he did that. He batted 20 overs, which means that he is very eager to learn and I feel he is somebody who plays authentic shots and I think he has done really well for himself and I think he is a really good talent."
Gaikwad struck a fifty on Sunday and for long periods it looked like he would shepherd Super Kings to the final himself, but as it turned out, it needed a finishing kick from his mentor. At the end of the night, holding his Player-of-the-Match award, Gaikwad too opened up about how Dhoni has helped him become a better player.
"With him, every time, even with Fleming and the support staff, it's pretty same," Gaikwad said. "Every time he tries to encourage me to keep going and to start fresh again, to start new. Just keep up the form, you know. Each and every game there's something to learn. Two-three times I remember I got out and he came to me and he said you know try and finish the game. It will help you in the future and it is what separates a good player from a normal player."
Trophies tend to do that too and Gaikwad has a shot at winning one of them this Friday.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo