Quite fittingly, as the multi-billion dollar Indian Premier League season reached an epic conclusion in the wee hours of Tuesday, cricket’s zen master MS Dhoni wasn’t rattled.
In a thrilling chase, Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings against Gujarat Titans needed a difficult 10 runs off the final two balls amid bedlam in front of 80,000 fans in Ahmedabad with $2.4 million winner’s prize on the line.
But all was not lost with veteran Ravindra Jadeja at the crease with the allrounder capable of the miraculous under the bright lights. He did exactly that with a stunning six down the ground off seamer Mohit Sharma as the stadium exploded – except for the stoic figure of skipper Dhoni, who remained motionless in the team’s dugout.
As the final ball of a truncated match – shortened due to rain on the reserve day after Sunday’s scheduled game had been washed out – approached at 1.30am, this cricket-crazy country was on edge. Except for, you guessed it, Dhoni who sat there with head slightly bowed like he was meditating.
What happened next was remarkable in arguably the greatest finish in the IPL’s 15-year history. Jadeja proved his liking for the moment with a flick down the leg-slide to trigger scenes of jubilation for his teammates and the Super Kings supporters in the terraces.
A giddy Jadeja did a victory lap, but Dhoni in the aftermath remained unperturbed in his stance, soaking it all in without emotion – living in the moment is his ethos. Eventually, Dhoni was jolted and he showed rare emotion as he lifted Jadeja in the air before regaining his composure and embracing everyone in sight, including his family.
There weren’t tears, you wouldn’t expect it from the calmest figure in cricket, but his beaming smile said it all. At 41 years old, Dhoni had defied age and a weary body to lead Super Kings to a fifth title through impeccable leadership underlined by remaining cool amid the cauldron of the toughest T20 cricket league in the world.
The two-month extravaganza of a tournament had largely been focused on the swansong of arguably India’s most beloved cricketer, who famously led his country to World Cup triumphs.
His devoted supporters had turned out in large numbers throughout the IPL, all hoping he could turn back the clock and deliver one last endearing memory in what many believe will be his final professional act on the field.
The spotlight again shone brightly on Dhoni from the moment he walked out of the playing tunnel to a thunderous ovation before the toss. He helped steady a nervy Super Kings in the field after they elected to bowl first with an astonishing stumping that he made look so easy.
But Gujarat appeared to be spoiling Dhoni’s party with a huge total of 214 for 4 that was revised to a target for Super Kings of 171 runs off 15 overs due to rain. The huge numbers of supporters wearing Dhoni’s yellow kit in the stands had hoped that their hero could rekindle his belligerent best with the bat.
But, playing his 250th IPL match, Dhoni was out first ball and trudged off to ashen faces and stunned silence only to have the last laugh in what might be a perfect send-off to a legendary career.
Dhoni, however, hinted that he might push for another season although said that “a lot depends on the body”.
Athletes rarely go out on top, even all-timers Michael Jordan and Tom Brady couldn’t resist another push, and time will tell if Dhoni is tempted to lap up the adulation for one more farewell tour.
That’s all to play out, but as the clock ticked past 3am, MS Dhoni was savoring every moment and his euphoric supporters didn’t want this night to ever end.