MS Dhoni’s eyes were shut and head was slightly bowed down when Ravindra Jadeja took guard to face the final ball of IPL 2023. The tens of thousands of fans had their smartphones out to capture the winning moment, for either team at the stage, and there was a slight delay as Gujarat Titans captain Hardik Pandya had a chat with Mohit Sharma before the final ball of the tournament. The delay only increased the tension and it got very noisy when Mohit seemed ready to ball.
The noise soon turned into a roar when Jadeja helped the misdirected low full-toss to the ropes and sealed the win. Before the ball even reached the ropes, the left-hander was off on a celebratory dash to the dugout where his captain Dhoni stood near the boundary ropes. What followed next was a moment of pure joy and rare show of emotions by the CSK captain, with an injured left knee, as he lifted Jadeja and celebrated the nerve-wracking title win.
That 10 second moment showed what the title means to him, what winning still means to him and why success with this franchise will continue to occupy a special place in his heart. For donkey years, Dhoni has been in similar situations in the middle but this was different, this hit different and certainly felt different. There were tears of joy in the stands, emotions ran high in the CSK dugout and even Dhoni, the man known to hide his emotions, remain ice cool under pressure and not celebrate even the greatest of triumphs, was not able to hold back the joy which also felt like relief.
It was that kind of night and it has been that kind of season. A season which started at the Narendra Modi Stadium with capacity crowd chanting “Dhoni, Dhoni” has ended in similar fashion. The crowd which left the ice-man’s eyes watery in the season opener, left a lump in his throat on final night. Wherever he went, the yellow jerseys followed. Whenever he came out to bat, no matter how brief it was, the chants never stopped. From Chennai to New Delhi, the sea of yellow continued to storm the stands and the “love and affection” has now forced even Dhoni to do something for them.
“The easy thing would be for me to say “Thank you very much”, but the tough thing for me is to work hard for another 9 months and come back and play at least 1 more season of IPL. A lot depends on the body, I have 6-7 months to decide. It will be more like a gift from my side, it’s not easy for me but that’s a gift. The way they’ve shown their love and affection, I think that’s something I need to do for them,” a very emotional Dhoni said at the post-match presser.
The clock was about to touch 3 am but the crowd was not ready to leave, just like they stayed back in the rain on May 28 and returned in full force on the reserve day.
“You do get emotional simply because it’s the last part of my career, it started over here and the first game when I walked down everyone was chanting my name. My eyes were full of water and I just stood there in the dugout for a while. I realised I want to enjoy this. It was the same thing in Chennai, it was my last game over there but it will be good to come back and play whatever I can,” added the CSK captain.
If there was rain which kept everyone waiting on Sunday, the wet side strips, which absorbed a lot of water during the brief spell of drizzle during the mid-innings break, didn’t allow any cricket to resume. When the conditions finally became fit for play, match had been reduced to 15-overs-a-side contest but the fans weren’t complaining. Most of them came to Ahmedabad for Dhoni, stayed in the city for Dhoni and waited well past midnight to first see Dhoni bat and then see him lift the IPL trophy for the fifth time.
Never before has an IPL final moved to a reserve day and ended nearly three hours later than the scheduled time. The game which was supposed to end on May 28 was first moved to May 29 and we finally got the winner in the early hours of May 30. By the time the media contingent was done with the presentation ceremony and post-match press-conferences, the clock was nearing 3:45 AM but the stands weren’t completely empty yet. One last picture, one last video for that potentially viral reel and one last glimpse of their superstar.
As he gently waved in front of the stands which had fans, Dhoni walked out of the park as IPL champion for the fifth time and leaves fans with a lot of memories. For most, the sight of Dhoni shutting his eyes in the second half of the final over will remain highlight of the season and the 42-year-old will continue to be toast of the nation.