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Feature

Dhoni and CSK recreate old Chepauk magic

A crowd of about 35,000 got to watch a massive opening stand, wickets from the CSK spinners, and, of course, the good old Dhoni show

Deivarayan Muthu
04-Apr-2023
Shivam Dube has just launched wristspinner Ravi Bishnoi for back-to-back sixes over wide long-on in the 14th over. A crowd of about 35,000 at Chepauk screams: Dei, Dube out aagu da (Hey, Dube get out). A similar chant rang around at Chepauk earlier this week during the intra-squad practice game that was thrown open to the public, who thronged the ground just to watch MS Dhoni smash sixes.
Once Dube got out during that practice game, the Chennai crowd got what it wanted. But in Chennai Super Kings' first home game in four years, they fear that they might not get to see their thala bat. When Moeen Ali belts Avesh Khan for a triptych of fours next over and when Ben Stokes smokes the fast bowler over mid-off for another four, the crowd becomes even more restless.
Super Kings are 203 for 5 after the 19th over. Mark Wood has Ravindra Jadeja skying a pull and even before Bishnoi settles under it, the roof is blown off Chepauk. The DJ plays Once upon a time there lived a ghost from Kamal Haasan's recent blockbuster movie Vikram. Over the past four years, Chennai has had to live with only memories of Dhoni. Now, it finally gets to see Dhoni in the flesh.
And Dhoni gives the Chepauk fans what they want. Wood, England's speed demon, hits 149kph and hides the ball away from Dhoni's reach. It finishes a set of stumps outside off, but Dhoni still reaches out and scythes his first ball flat and hard over point for six. He will turn 42 this July, but his hand-eye coordination and his power is incredible. Chepauk goes wild. Wood goes wide of the crease next ball and bangs a bouncer into Dhoni's arm pit. He swiftly swivels on the back foot and hooks one of the fastest bowlers in the world into the top tier over square leg for a bigger six. Chepauk loses it once again.
Shaik Rasheed, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Devon Conway and Ruturaj Gaikwad, who have all never seen Dhoni do this at Chepauk before, are up on their feet, clapping in almost disbelief. But for the Chepauk faithful, this was old magic, even though Dhoni holed out next ball.
The entire evening was about Super Kings recreating the old magic on their grand homecoming.
It had all started with Gaikwad and Conway providing a throwback to M Vijay-Michael Hussey during their 110-run opening partnership. Much like Vijay back in the day, Gaikwad lined up the offspinner (K Gowtham in this case) and pumped him for three sixes in one over. After the powerplay, Conway took Hussey-esque trips down the pitch and took calculated risks against both spin and pace.
Of course, there was a spin choke later in the evening, but it was a slightly unfamiliar one in a high-scoring fixture. The pitch on Monday wasn't a turner, but Moeen and Mitchell Santner extracted enough turn and denied the Lucknow Super Giants batters easy access to the shorter boundary on one side. After being on 79 for 0 inside the powerplay, Super Giants fell to 130 for 5, thanks to Moeen and Santner.
The crowd knows that Super Kings' spinners have got this. But the presence of Nicholas Pooran at No. 6 for Super Giants prompts Dhoni to hold Jadeja back. However, with Deepak Chahar and Stokes leaking runs, Dhoni brings Jadeja into the attack for the 15th over. Pooran immediately smashes the left-arm fingerspinner out of the attack with two imposing sixes.
Pooran's hits hush the Chepauk crowd, but they soon find their voice once again when Tushar Deshpande has Pooran holing out in the 16th over and follows it up with a boundary-less 18th over.
Super Giants need 37 of 12 balls. Super Kings are still waiting for the arrival of their death bowlers Sisanda Magala and Maheesh Theekshana after finishing their national duties. Hangargekar had conceded 6, 4, 4 to Pooran in his first over, but Dhoni backs an unheralded Indian seamer to do the job for him under pressure. The likes of Mohit Sharma and Sudeep Tyagi used to do the dirty job for him back in the day.
Having stacked the off-side field with his best fielders - Jadeja, Gaikwad, Santner and Stokes - Dhoni asks Hangargekar to bowl wide yorkers and pitch the ball away from the hitting arcs of both Badoni and Gowtham. Hangargekar, who is playing only his second game for Super Kings, marginally misses his line and gives up two wides in the over. But he doesn't veer away from his plan and concedes just nine runs overall in the penultimate over to all but kill off Super Giants' chase.
The endgame at Chepauk has to feature Dhoni. He ticks that box as well by tracking down a skier from Badoni despite being wrong-footed initially.
"[It] does mean a lot to be back here," Dhoni said at the toss amid deafening cheers. "IPL started in 2008 but we've not played a lot of cricket here. Only about five-six seasons we've been here. This is the first time the full stadium will be operational, a few stands were empty earlier. Really glad that we get to play all our home games here at Chepauk, means a lot."
It certainly meant a lot to the Super Kings fans too.
As the clock ticks past 12am, Dhoni has a reunion with former Super Kings Suresh Raina and Robin Uthappa, who are on commentary for this IPL, capping a memorable return to Chepauk.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo