Defending champions Chennai Super Kings have not had a happy IPL 2022, but they have a leg-up for the next edition: MS Dhoni will be with the team as a player next season and, importantly, is going to be their captain too. The main reason to play, as Dhoni explained, is to bid adieu to his supporters in Chennai and the rest of India.
Asked by Ian Bishop on Star Sports about his future before Super Kings' match on Friday evening against Rajasthan Royals, Dhoni said, "Definitely [I will play IPL 2023]. It's a simple reason: it will be unfair to not play in Chennai and say thank you [to the fans]. Mumbai is one place where, as a team and as an individual, I have got a lot of love and affection. But it wouldn't be nice to the CSK fans.
"And also, hopefully next year there will be an opportunity where the teams will be travelling so it will be a like thank you to all the different places where we will be playing games at different venues. Whether it will be my last year or not that's a big question, because you know we can't really predict about something two years down the line. But definitely I'll be working hard to come back strong next year."
As reported by ESPNcricinfo almost an hour before the toss, Dhoni, now almost 41 years old, has told the Super Kings team management that he will be available for the 2023 IPL and will lead the team too. In another shot in the arm for the four-time IPL champions, it has been learnt that Ravindra Jadeja, who left the Super Kings camp following an injury, will also be in the mix for the 2023 season. This debunks the perception that Jadeja had fallen out with Dhoni and the team management after the captaincy swap a little more than halfway into Super Kings' 2022 season.
The developments are significant for Super Kings, whose game against Royals is their final match of the ongoing season. With just four wins so far in 13 matches, Super Kings are ninth on the points table, just above Mumbai Indians.
It was on May 1, ahead of Super Kings' ninth league match, against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Pune, that Dhoni returned as the team's captain. This, after Jadeja had decided to step down, having taken the reins from Dhoni at the start of the season.
At the toss, when Danny Morrison asked Dhoni whether he would be seen in action in 2023, Dhoni had given a cryptic answer: "You'll definitely see me in the yellow jersey - whether it's this yellow jersey or some other yellow jersey you will have to wait and watch."
The issue of the Super Kings' captaincy has been in the news right from the beginning of the season; when, just two days before the first game of IPL 2022, it was announced that Jadeja would be leading them; when a run of losses kept Super Kings in the bottom two of the points table; when the decision was made to return the captaincy to Dhoni and then Jadeja abruptly exited the competition.
After winning the first match on his return to captaincy, Dhoni had spoken about the circumstances that forced him to take back the captaincy. He explained that captaincy was "having an effect" on Jadeja's game, and that the team management had eventually decided that they needed Jadeja the player more.
"What is important is once you become the captain, you have to take care of many things," Dhoni had told Star Sports after the Sunrisers match. "And that also includes taking care of your own game. And with him, his mind was working a lot.
"It's not easy to control your mind, it's the strongest feature… body, physiques, all of those things are fine, but once your mind starts working and it wants to contribute more: okay, what's the combination I can play with; okay, who can bowl at what point of time. It doesn't really stop. So, what really happens is the individual is not able to relax - even when he closes his eyes and wants to sleep, the mind is still working.
"So what I felt was, it was having an effect on his game also. When he was going in to bat, or when it comes to his preparation, is putting this [extra] burden affecting his game? Because I would love to have Jadeja as a bowler and batter and fielder. Captaincy, fair enough. Even if you relieve [him of] captaincy, and if he is at his best [as a player], that's what we really want because we were also losing a great fielder. We were struggling [to find] a deep-midwicket fielder."
Dhoni, the Super Kings captain right through their journey in the IPL - bar the two years the franchise was banned following the spot-fixing scandal of 2013 and the first few matches of the ongoing season - and Jadeja were both part of the quartet retained by Super Kings ahead of the 2022 players' auction. While Jadeja was retained as the first pick at INR 16 crore, Dhoni was the second player retained at INR 12 crore.
Dhoni, who will be close to 42 by the next IPL, is already the oldest player in the tournament. Though he is one of the fittest players around as well as one of the most astute captains, the question about Super Kings' next captain has been posed often to both Dhoni and the Super Kings management over the past few years.
Last October, immediately after Super Kings won the 2021 IPL, N Srinivasan, the Super Kings' owner, said that Dhoni would always be "part and parcel" of not just the franchise, but also the city of Chennai and the state of Tamil Nadu. "There is no CSK without Dhoni and there is no Dhoni without CSK," Srinivasan had said.
A month later, while felicitating Dhoni and the team for winning their fourth IPL title, Srinivasan had reiterated, "People keep bugging him, 'are you going to continue?' Arrey, he's there, I say. He's not gone anywhere. Why don't you understand the fact that he's there. He's still there. With us."