Shortly after winning his last game of the season at Chepauk and leading CSK into the IPL final, MS Dhoni was asked whether he'd be back in Chennai next year. He continued to be non-committal about the subject, saying he had another eight-nine months to decide, but acknowledged that it had taken a "heavy toll" on him.
"I don't know, I have eight to nine months to decide, the small auction may be around December, so why take that headache right now?" Dhoni said after CSK's win against Gujarat Titans in Qualifier 1. "I have ample time to decide."
Dhoni has had an issue with his knee all through the season and was seen wearing a brace after CSK's final league game. While he hasn't missed a match, he has had trouble running between wickets.
"I will always be there for CSK, whether that is in the playing form or sitting somewhere outside...I don't really know. Frankly, it takes a heavy toll. I have been out of home for literally four months. January 31 was when I got out of the house, finished my work, and started practicing from 2nd or 3rd of March. It takes a lot, but I have ample time to decide."
Dhoni and CSK now travel from Chennai to Ahmedabad for their tenth IPL final in 14 seasons. When asked whether an IPL final now felt like just another game, Dhoni said it did not.
"IPL is too big to say that it is just another ... and not to be forgetting that there used to be eight top teams, who used to compete with the best players available in the world and now it is tougher.
"I won't say it is just another final. It is hard work of more than two months because of which we are standing over here. Lot of character shown by the individuals, from where we started to where we are, and I feel everybody has contributed. Yes, the middle order has not got ample opportunity, but in between everybody has got a chance to chip in and they have done that."
CSK managed to score 172 after losing the toss in Qualifier 1 on a pitch that was tough for batting. During the defence, Dhoni was in his element, marshalling his bowlers and making field placements to stifle the Titans' chase.
"You see the wicket, you see the conditions and according to that, you keep adjusting the field," he said. "I can be a very annoying captain because I shift the fielder one or two feet here and there every time.
"The fielder needs to keep an eye on me. Imagine you are fielding and every two balls or three balls, I am like, 'Okay two feet to your right, three feet to your left.' It can be annoying. I always say I believe in my gut feel, I see the wicket, the line, what is really happening and more often than not, it pays off. The only request I ask from the fielders is 'keep an eye on me, if you drop a catch, there won't be any reactions but just keep an eye on me.'"
It hasn't been an easy road to the final for CSK. They have grappled with several injuries, but have managed with the resources they have, especially in the pace department where Tushar Deshpande and Matheesha Pathirana have grown into their roles over the course of the season.
"We try to create an environment. Other than that, we reiterate as to what is the strength of the fast bowler. Along with that, we make sure that they are improving in the areas where they need to be good at," Dhoni said. "At the IPL, more often than not with the new ball, they know what needs to be done. The question is when it is not swinging, when it is not in your favour, then with the two fielders, where you can bowl to a particular batsman and what field you can keep. If a bowler knows that, more often than not, he will be successful.
"We try to motivate them as much as possible. The support staff is there, they are always there. Now, [Dwayne] Bravo is there, Eric [Simons] is there. There are lot of people who can help them out. At the end of the day, when they are standing, they are there on their own. It is a very lonely place, but that's where you can be brave and courageous."
Deepak Chahar: "Everything is okay"
CSK's most experienced fast bowler Deepak Chahar has said that "everything is okay" despite appearing to pull up with some discomfort in his leg after taking the final catch of the game against the Titans.
"Everything is okay, one more to go," Chahar said after the match.
Chahar has missed six games this season due to a hamstring injury he suffered in an earlier match after missing the whole of the 2022 season due to a back injury. In Qualifier 1, Chahar picked up 2 for 29, which included the wickets of the Titans openers, Wriddhiman Saha and Shubman Gill.
"The ball was doing something on the track and it was sticking to it [the pitch]. So, as a bowling unit, we decided to bowl more length," Chahar said. "When you get support from the wicket, then you obviously don't need to experiment too much - just bowl the basic ball and let them take the chances because we scored the runs and, when it comes to semi-finals, it's all about handling the pressure. And scoring 170, chasing 170 in a semi-final when the crowd is against you, is very difficult."