There are instances in professional sport where a player and a team become indelibly linked. Think Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls comes to the mind, if it’s David Beckham then it’s just got to be Manchester United, the mention of Frank Lampard conjures up images of Chelsea and no other. Likewise, MS Dhoni in the Indian Premier League is synonymous with Chennai Super Kings.
Jordan’s final two NBA seasons were with Washington Wizards. Lampard and Beckham did not end their club careers at Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford either. Dhoni was bought by Rising Pune Supergiants last year following CSK’s two-year suspension. Yet, their exploits with the club that brought the best out of them turned into the stuff of legend, and with that the eternal association.
IPL’s most-decorated franchise is set to return next season, and N Srinivasan, vice chairman and MD of India Cements that runs CSK, has said he is looking forward to seeing, “MS Dhoni wearing yellow and leading the CSK team onto the ground.”
Like most things in the future, it is difficult to say if everything will remain the same as before. Time is never constant. As the landmark 10th edition of the extravaganza is set to kick off on April 5, one likes to look back at the franchise that played a huge hand in turning the IPL into a global brand.
CSK – IPL winners in 2010 and 2011, runners-up in 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2015 (final appearance before ban), semi-finalists in all eight seasons, Champions League winners in 2010 and 2014, highest win percentage (60.68). Not to forget an enviable home record, including an unbeaten run in 2011 that saw Chidambaram Stadium turn into “Fortress Chepauk.”
So many factors go into the making of a champion side in the modern age. A great deal of hard work undoubtedly, specialized skills, talent, right personnel – CSK had it all. However, Brand CSK was built around one man – Dhoni, easily the most effectively marketed athlete in IPL history.
“Before the first auction we told the group that was sitting there to get Dhoni at any price,” Srinivasan recollected, while speaking at the Madras Advertising Club’s annual awards function in Chennai on Friday. “The first truly game-changing decision was to get Dhoni on board. He had won the World T20 in 2007 in his own style, and was different from the others,” said the former BCCI and ICC boss, on the making of Brand CSK.
To put things in perspective and underline his impact on Indian cricket as a leader, Dhoni closed his international captaincy in January this year at a record 331 games across formats. India’s longest serving and most decorated captain, the 35-year-old led in 60 (27 wins) of his 90 Tests – taking the side to the No. 1 ranking in 2009 – 199 ODIs (110 wins), including titles at the 2011 World Cup and 2013 Champions Trophy, and 72 Twenty20 Internationals (41 wins), including the inaugural World T20 crown.
“An aura developed around the team because of its performance and its captain who was growing in stature. He adopted the city and vice versa,” continued the 72-year-old Srinivasan.
“The Tamil anthem, the colour yellow, the ‘whistle podu’ song, along with Dhoni, helped build the CSK brand. We have not been part of the IPL for two years but that has not affected the brand one bit.
“Though people criticise CSK and make allegations, its followers have only grown. The proof is, wherever I go, thanks to the power of CSK, there is not a single place where people don’t want to come and take a selfie with me.”
Dhoni’s cricketing personality was a big draw in a city known for its cricket culture but with very few stars to look up to.
“MSD is the primary reason why I support CSK,” Satya G, a Chennai-based Sommelier, told The News Minute. “His persona, his dominance as a finisher, the way he soaked in the pressure, the way he led, and we just kept winning,” added the 48-year-old, who went on to recollect CSK’s home game against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the 2013 season when Dhoni took the then world’s No 1 fast bowler Dale Steyn to the cleaners.
“MSD’s calculated assault at the finish was remarkable and his shot-selection audacious,” added Satya, referring to the two successive sixes off the South African quick, over long-on – the second akin to a forehand tennis smash – to take the pressure off the chase. “And the team, Oh, what a team we had… MSD, (Ravindra) Jadeja, (Ravichandran) Ashwin...”
Notwithstanding the corruption charges against one of the team officials that led to the ban, CSK retains its charm across its millions of followers purely on performances over eight seasons. And the team’s return is eagerly awaited.
Srinivasan said, “You can accuse anybody of anything but you can’t accuse a single player. They just played…”
Sanjay Rajan has written on sport for over two decades. He tweets at @SeamUp.