Only a handful of people remained, and among them was the winning captain on the night, and now five-time IPL champion- MS Dhoni. Had you just taken his snapshot at the moment, and circulated it, a man appearing out of Jumanji would have hardly been able to guess whether something of any significance had been won or lost by his team.
It's one thing to preach, another to practice. It's all well and good to talk about remaining equanimous in victory and defeat, but when it comes down to the actual moment, only a few can hold their nerve. Dhoni, for one, practices what he preaches
A last-ball CSK win, and that too with a boundary, was a tribute to the man himself in many ways.
Ravindra Jadeja, who has been nurtured by Dhoni over the years, was the one who performed the deed, but it had the mark of Dhoni in thought. What doesn't in the current IPL ecosystem?
The man has left behind a massive trail through the 16 seasons of the IPL, and no matter where you pick up the thread, if you try to reach either end of it, you can't help but detect various Dhoni imprints along the way.
Hence, it was only poetic that it was not Dhoni who ran onto the field, but the protagonist on the night, Jadeja himself came up to the dugout to embrace the doyen.
Acing it With a Makeshift Gang
After finishing at the second-last spot last year, this has been some turnaround for Chennai Super Kings. And, it's not as if they have been able to rope in some massive names – they did bring in Ben Stokes in December's auction, but it didn't make a difference anyway.
In fact, this time around, General MSD went to war with an arsenal that had depleted further, with a host of injuries rampaging through the squad.
Mukesh Choudhary was ruled out of the competition due to a back injury, and Akash Singh was roped in as his replacement. Singh ended up doing a decent job in the absence of Deepak Chahar, who missed out on a few games due to a hamstring injury.
Kyle Jamieson was ruled out of the entire season because of a back injury. Sisanda Mangala, who replaced him, sustained a finger injury himself and could not play any further part. Ben Stokes was nursing a knee injury all throughout and wasn't available to bowl before leaving the team ahead of the playoffs
Despite all these limitations, CSK rose from the ashes of IPL 2022 out of nowhere, banking on an army of lesser-known, but determined and thoroughly backed individuals, both young and slightly old, who turned it around under the leadership of captain MS Dhoni and head coach Stephen Fleming.
Dube, Deshpande emerge as unlikely heroes
But for the Dhoni factor, how many would have been able to predict before the start of the season that Tushar Deshpande would end up as the top wicket-taker for CSK, with 21 scalps from 16 matches? And that Matheesha Pathirana would emerge as the team's bastion at the death with 19 wickets from 12 games, and that even the biggest of big hitters would struggle to get him away.
In fact, Pathirana and compatriot Maheesh Theekshana were retained just for Rs 20 lakh and Rs 70 lakh respectively before the start of the season!
How many would have been able to predict that Shivam Dube would turn out to be an absolute marauder of spin bowling? And will end up with 418 runs from 16 games at strike rate of 158.33, tonking Rashid Khan for two massive sixes on the night, or rather the morning of the final, which would end up being match defining.
More surprisingly, how many would have been able to predict the 2.0 version of Ajinkya Rahane? The veteran struck at over 170 in IPL 2023 with 326 runs from 11 innings and played an extremely classy cameo in the final.
Giving MS Dhoni credit for almost everything in the universe has become fodder for some hilarious memes, but even clichés have some truth at their core. Undoubtedly, Mahi deserves great credit for a lot of these phenomenons which seemed extremely unlikely at the start of the season.
Openers Sizzle, Rayudu Bows Out
The major credit of Chennai Super Kings' fifth title win also goes to their opening combination of Devon Conway and Ruturaj Gaikwad who added 849 runs in the season, the second-most by an opening pair, only behind the 939 partnership runs of Faf du Plessis and Virat Kohli.
Conway played a particularly crucial hand in the final – a testament to the long-term planning of the CSK management. How seamlessly the overseas opener's slot has changed hands from Shane Watson to Faf du Plessis, and now to Devon Conway!
The credit is also shared by Deepak Chahar for doing quite well in the powerplay and picking up 10 wickets within the fielding restrictions, despite missing out on a few matches. All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja also played his part with the ball, particularly on tracks where he got a little bit of purchase, and ended up with 20 wickets at 21.55.
Last but not the least, Ambati Rayudu did his job in the CSK yellow, one last time before permanently hanging up his boots. Dhoni's India A teammate and 37-year-old Rayudu might have bid adieu to the game, but at 41 years and 327 days, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has vowed to keep going.
Not many predicted CSK to lift the trophy this year. Fewer still gave them a chance to out-maneuver the well-rounded Gujarat Titans in the final. And still fewer placed their bets on MS Dhoni, the player, making it to IPL 2024. Well, it's time to tear up your prediction sheets, and stride right into the MS Dhoni metaverse.