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Exclusive: It Could Be Dhoni’s Year – Anil Kumble on CSK’s IPL 2023 Title Hopes

IPL 2023: Anil Kumble feels MS Dhoni retiring with a title for Chennai Super Kings will be the perfect swansong.

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At the halfway point in what has been an exhilarating Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023 season, four teams have emerged as the prime contenders to make it to the players. Three amongst them – defending champions Gujarat Titans, Rajasthan Royals and Lucknow Super Giants – are far from being surprise packages, having made it to the knockouts in the last season as well.

Amid the usual suspects, a former giant has made an audacious bid to reclaim its glory, in a comeback that could draw parallels with Phoenix from some writers. Chennai Super Kings, the four-time champions, are back to their best after finishing second-last in 2022.

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IPL 2023: Anil Kumble feels MS Dhoni retiring with a title for Chennai Super Kings will be the perfect swansong.

IPL 2023: After a disappointing 2022 season, Chennai Super Kings are back to their best this time around.

(Photo: BCCI)

Having won only four matches last season, they have already secured five victories this time around. With many assuming this to be MS Dhoni’s farewell act, given the skipper himself has dropped hints, CSK lifting the trophy could be the perfect swansong for a player who has played a crucial role in shaping the popularity of the competition.

Speaking exclusively to The Quint, former Indian cricketer and Jio Cinema expert, Anil Kumble earmarked Chennai as among the favourites for the title, saying “this could be Dhoni’s year.” He also expressed awe over the performances of youngsters, in the likes of Rinku Singh, Arshdeep Singh and Ravi Bishnoi, claiming that the selectors will be keeping a keen eye on them.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

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We have seen a couple of new centurions this time around, in Venkatesh Iyer and Harry Brook. We have also seen Mark Wood getting a fifer, while there has been a plethora of last-ball finishes. What has been the highlight for you this season?

There has been plenty of highlights, but nobody can take away from what Rinku Singh did against Gujarat Titans. I think that sort of achievement takes belief to the next level. 31 runs are needed in the last over, and he finished it with 5 sixes in a row. That, to me, was outstanding,

I certainly feel for the bowler. But having said that, what Rinku did well was keeping his cool. Even his celebration wasn't really outlandish. I think it was more of a matter-of-factly celebration, as if to say that I knew that I could get these 31 runs, which was unbelievable. I think that is the biggest takeaway from the T20 format, where anything can happen, anything is possible.

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Rinku Singh has been lionized for that innings, and rightfully so. But then again, with other impressive performances, he has proved that that last over against Gujarat Titans wasn't a flash in the pan, and that he has got all the talent to make it big. Do you think if he continues like this, Rinku could make it to the national team, or does he have to wait for a few more seasons?

I'm sure the selectors will be watching him closely. Some of the performances that we have seen so far from the uncapped Indian players have been outstanding, and the consistency and maturity that they have shown are impressive.

We saw Rinku’s talent in the last season for KKR. I remember that match against Lucknow Super Giants, where he came very close to winning the game for them. That, again, was a high-scoring run chase. To have followed up this season with not just that five sixes in a row, as you mentioned, but also with another good knock in the match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, it shows what he's capable of.

I'm sure the selectors are watching closely in terms of who's playing those key role-specific innings. It is something one needs to look for as well. In this format, it's not just about picking the top six run-getters and then filling up the top six batting order with them. It should also be role-specific.

The likes of Rinku Singh, Rahul Tewatia, Abhinav Manohar, Shahrukh Khan, and Jitesh Sharma – these guys fit into that kind of specific finisher’s role. Of course, we know the great MSD as well, he is still continuing to do that. But among these young players, the selectors will certainly be having an eye on the guys I have mentioned.

IPL 2023: Anil Kumble feels MS Dhoni retiring with a title for Chennai Super Kings will be the perfect swansong.

IPL 2023: Anil Kumble feels Rinku Singh will be closely monitored by the national selectors.

(Photo: BCCI)

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In terms of captaincy, Hardik Pandya has proven that it wasn't a one-season wonder show, to take Gujarat Titans to the title. His team is again doing really well this time around. Rajasthan Royals' Sanju Samson has been impressive, whilst Dhoni is doing what Dhoni always does. Who do you think has been the most impressive captain this season?

Hardik Pandya is a proven Indian international player. He has won championships for Mumbai Indians as a player, and as a captain for GT last season. About MS (Dhoni), we all know the ability and quality that he brings. We all know what he has done over the past 15 years – for both India and CSK.

Hardik and MS are great leaders, but one captain who has been really impressive is Sanju Samson. Hardik, of course, has supplemented his last season’s performance, but I feel Sanju has been brilliant. He has experienced spinners in his team, despite that, the way he has managed his bowlers in those 20 overs – in terms of bringing the right guy at the right time, has been really great.

IPL 2023: Anil Kumble feels MS Dhoni retiring with a title for Chennai Super Kings will be the perfect swansong.

IPL 2023: Last season's runners-up, Rajasthan Royals are doing well yet again under Sanju Samson's captaincy.

(Photo: BCCI)

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Ravi Bishnoi made his IPL debut under your coaching, and it was also under your stewardship that Arshdeep Singh also had his breakthrough season. Seeing those two now, doing consistently well and looking like future stars for India, what do you feel about the journeys they've had? Did it always seem that they have the spark?

Of course. Arshdeep had played a few games before I became the coach of Punjab, but the moment I first saw him, I knew he has potential. My coaching staff worked with him constantly in terms of how he manages his spell, but to my amazement, the way he has matured and owned up to that responsibility is amazing.

He had a great start with the Indian team, but then there was a stutter. He had to go through a lot of pressure for that dropped catch (against Pakistan in Asia Cup), and then for no balls. But he has made a strong comeback.

He is a leader and we could see that from Day 1. To take over (bowling) leadership responsibilities for your franchise at such a young is brilliant. Arshdeep has bowled in all phases, and with success – that, to me, is great progress. I think the selectors will keep him in contention for a spot in the 2023 World Cup squad, be it the 50-over format.

Similarly, I have been very impressed with Ravi Bishnoi’s progress. I saw him at the U19 World Cup, picked him and made him play straightaway, ahead of some senior spinners. The reason behind that was this guy has the potential and hunger.

He is also very courageous. In the T20 format, you need bowlers to want the ball in their hands – irrespective of who the batter is and how he is playing. This is something you can see in Bishnoi.

IPL 2023: Anil Kumble feels MS Dhoni retiring with a title for Chennai Super Kings will be the perfect swansong.

IPL 2023: Arshdeep Singh had his breakthrough IPL campaign under Anil Kumble's coaching.

(Photo: BCCI)

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Like Arshdeep has redeemed himself after the dropped catch, it seems that Chennai Super Kings have also redeemed themselves after a difficult 2022 season. They are playing like four-time champions. Many believe that if this is MS Dhoni’s last season, retiring with an IPL trophy in hand will be the perfect swansong. What is your opinion on this?

That (CSK winning IPL 2023) would be the perfect swansong, considering the reception MS gets, irrespective of wherever he plays – be it Chennai, Kolkata or Jaipur. Remember, the playoffs (Qualifier 1 and Eliminator) are in Chennai, where CSK have a great record. In the last ten years, only Rajasthan have been able to beat Chennai in Chennai.

So, CSK have everything right in front of them – they will need to play playoffs in Chennai, and they are right up there in the top four. I believe it is only a matter of time before CSK qualifies for the playoffs.

It could be MS Dhoni’s year, but having said that, some of the other players have shown brilliant form. I am really happy for Ajinkya (Rahane), for not only what he is doing in IPL, but also because he is back in the Indian team.

IPL 2023: Anil Kumble feels MS Dhoni retiring with a title for Chennai Super Kings will be the perfect swansong.

IPL 2023: Anil Kumble feels MS Dhoni retiring with an IPL trophy will be the perfect swansong for him.

(Photo: BCCI)

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Lastly, you have experienced IPL in three ways – as a player, as a coach, and now as a commentator with Jio Cinema. How has this experience been for you? Compared to coaching, would you say this is a bit less stressful?

Each role has been very special. Being a player, of course, was very special. Being a coach was a different challenge, in a different environment with different expectations. Whereas now, the IPL experience with Jio Cinema has been really nice.

I don't want to call it less stressful, because I don't think there's been any stress in any of the jobs or roles that I have taken it's I would look at look at those more as challenges and for me, it's been very good. It's a very wonderful experience.

The buzz that you get here is wonderful. The only personal experience I have had this season was at the Wankhede Stadium, because I was calling the game. That was the only match experience, but the buzz is no less. that I can surely tell you.

I'm sure you'll also see a lot more tech-related stuff coming in as well, because behind the scenes, we have seen a few of the fantastic tech stuff. Last week, Robin Uthappa did one with Hardik Pandya, explaining how Hardik has changed his game in the pre-show. I am sure it is something the viewers enjoy as well.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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