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CSK-Mumbai rivalry enters new era

It's the first time in over a decade that a CSK-MI game will not witness Dhoni and Rohit as captains

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
Mumbai Indians vs Chennai Super Kings. The biggest rivalry in the IPL and perhaps in all franchise T20 cricket. For a number of years, it had begun with MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma walking out for the toss. But it's time for a new era now.
It's the first time in over a decade that a CSK-MI game will not witness Dhoni and Rohit as captains. Ruturaj Gaikwad was announced as CSK's new captain on the eve of their season opener against Royal Challengers Bengaluru last month, while Hardik Pandya took over from Rohit after what was arguably the biggest and most dramatic trade in IPL history.
The Wankhede was buzzing on the eve of the match between CSK and MI. It's the most sought after clash every season. A game for which people go the extra mile to get tickets. It's El Clasico of the IPL. After all, the two teams between them have ten of the 16 IPL titles.
Let's revisit the first-ever meeting between CSK and MI, in 2008 at Chepauk, which was a portent for the thrillers that would follow. Joginder Sharma, who had bowled the final over in the 2007 T20 World Cup final, was trusted by Dhoni to bowl the final over once again, this time for CSK, and he defended 18 to consign MI to a narrow defeat.
The finish was even more thrilling when CSK met MI ten years later, in 2018, after they had returned from a two-year ban. Dwayne Bravo, who has played for MI in the past and continues to play for their affiliate in the ILT20 league, helped seal a last-ball win at this very venue along with Kedar Jadhav, who was functioning on just one leg because of a hamstring injury.
Then, there was the 2019 final where Lasith Malinga's signature slower yorker denied Shardul Thakur and CSK. Malinga and Bravo are now bowling coaches at MI and CSK respectively.
On Saturday, Malinga was helping Nuwan Thushara, a new slinga, hone his skills at the nets. While Thushara is yet to make his IPL debut, CSK had unleashed their slinga, Matheesha Pathirana, last season. He could go up against Malinga's men on Sunday if he recovers from a niggle.
At training, Thakur, the Mumbai boy who plays for CSK, engaged in some banter with Rohit and Shams Mulani, the Mumbai boys who play for MI.
Even the usually stoic Stephen Fleming is looking forward to this clash. "We love it. We really look forward to this fixture, it's a wonderful place to play," Fleming, the CSK head coach, said. "Over the years it has developed into a really competitive rivalry, and it's based on two good teams playing successful brands of cricket, not by design but more through results. We try to keep things reasonably simple.
"A part of the process for this game is to keep the emotions down and just enjoy the occasion for what it is. It is very easy to hype it up because it's all around you, but we have got some pretty cool customers in our side."
Mumbai have a number of Indian and overseas stars in their team, but there's every chance of the Wankhede being predominantly yellow on Sunday because of one man.
"It's magnificent, truly outstanding to see the love India has for MSD [Dhoni]," Fleming said. "We are the benefactors of that. The team feels proud when they walk out to an away game and there's a large amount of yellow. In some cases, it is overwhelming, but you make sure it is a nice addition and not pressure.
"But we acknowledge what's created it and who's created it and we are very proud of him and his involvement with the side. It's a huge honour that people will come and support him and [even] if it's secondary to the team, they are closely linked."
There are a few, however, who have never experienced the MI vs CSK rivalry and were surprised when asked about it.
"Kya rivalry? Mujhe to pata nai, sir [What rivalry? I don't know, sir]," Mohammad Nabi, who is playing for MI for the first time, said.
It really is a new era.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Sudarshanan7