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Dhoni dazzles Wankhede with six, six, six

The Mumbai stadium was more yellow than blue on Sunday evening, and it got what it wanted - three times over

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
The impatience of the crowd, more yellow than blue, grew with every passing ball even though Shivam Dube was smashing it. The penultimate over, bowled by Jasprit Bumrah, went for only seven. Chennai Super Kings were on 180 for 3 at that point but the vibe inside the Wankhede Stadium was a bit flat.
The fans found their voice - almost reluctantly it seemed - when Daryl Mitchell hit a straight boundary off Hardik Pandya in the 20th over but time was running out for the reason they had filled the stadium on Sunday evening. But when Mitchell mistimed one towards long-on, the crowd roared, and it wasn't for the home team's wicket. They had spotted MS Dhoni making his way down the stairs from the away dressing room.
The press box at the Wankhede is insulated well enough to prevent most of the crowd noise from seeping through. But on Sunday, you couldn't hear the person sitting next to you. It was bedlam in the stands.
The Wankhede is where Dhoni hit the famous six to win India the World Cup in 2011. The spot where that shot landed - two seats between the Divecha Pavilion and MCA Pavilion - has been immortalised with a memorial: it has a replica of the World Cup trophy and a photograph of the team after the win. That night, he was facing Nuwan Kulasekara. Tonight, he was up against Hardik from the media end.
It was only the fourth time Dhoni was batting in IPL 2024. He had scored an unbeaten 37 off 16 balls in his first innings of the season, against Delhi Capitals in Visakhapatnam. He had hit two sixes and two fours in the last over bowled by Anrich Nortje, helping CSK reduce the margin of defeat in their third match of IPL 2024.
On the eve of CSK's game against Mumbai - the only time these two teams meet in the league stage this year - Dhoni was mis-timing the big hits in the nets. Even slot balls were being sliced towards where deep cover or long-off would have stood. He did connect a few towards the end of the nets session, but only towards the on side.
Hardik dished out a length ball to welcome Dhoni on Sunday. It was wide outside off. Dhoni stood still and clobbered it way over long-off. First-ball six. Bonkers.
Hardik went back to the top of his mark quickly, and bowled another length ball. Dhoni's role over the last couple of IPL seasons has been clear - enter as late as possible and merely look to hit the ball into the stands. Length balls are some of the easiest to do this off, and he duly deposited this one way over long-on - flat and long.
Hardik was ready to run in again, but Tim David ran in from long-off to slow the game down. Dhoni got a bit of breathing room. He looked around the field - midwicket, long-on, long-off, cover and point were on the boundary. Hardik's plan had been to bowl wide outside off but a couple of wides earlier in the over against Mitchell had perhaps changed that. The home captain was under pressure and it showed.
He went searching for a yorker next ball but ended up bowling a full toss on the stumps, which Dhoni flicked over backward square leg. "Mayhem Singh Dhoni" flashed on the big screen at the ground as the crowd went ballistic.
One Dhoni six would have been on everyone's wishlist when they set out from their homes; they got three in three balls. Dhoni was only the third batter to hit the first three balls of his innings for sixes in the IPL. Even those fans in the MI blue were not complaining.
The crowd took some time to return the ball, which gave Hardik more time at the top of his mark. Once again David was in his ear. He pushed third back and got point in for the last ball, which was an off-pace length ball outside off. Dhoni looked to wallop it over the on side but only got an inside edge for two.
Twenty runs off just four balls to take CSK to 206. Job done, Dhoni rushed back to change into his wicketkeeping gear. On the way up the stairs to the dressing room, he stopped to pick up something dropped by a fan and returned it to them over the barricade before carrying on. Dhoni's six count this season is 16 in 82 balls, and 124 off his 163 runs have come in boundaries. The Mumbai crowd did not care about the numbers though. A dizzying Dhoni special transcends all that.

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