Dhoni 'hands over' CSK captaincy to Gaikwad day before IPL opener

Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Chennai | The legendary Mahendra Singh Dhoni on Thursday "handed" over the Chennai Super Kings captaincy to opener Ruturaj Gaikwad on the eve of the IPL opener here, a stunning decision that is bound to send speculation swirling on his playing future with the franchise.

In a post on X, the Indian Premier League made the announcement a day before CSK take on Royal Challengers Bangaluru. The five-time champions issued a brief statement soon after.

"MS Dhoni has handed over Chennai Super Kings' captaincy to Ruturaj Gaikwad ahead of the start of TATA IPL 2024. Ruturaj has been an integral part of Chennai Super Kings since 2019 and has played 52 matches in IPL during this period. The team looks forward to the upcoming season," said CSK.

There is speculation that Dhoni will retire at the end of the season and therefore the franchise felt the need for a smooth transition in the stalwart's presence as a player.

Gaikwad, who has played six ODIs and 19 T20s for India, made his CSK debut in 2020 and has gone on to represent the team in 52 games.

"Whatever Dhoni does, it is in the best interest of the team. I got to know of the decision just before the captains' meeting. You have to respect his decision, it is his call," CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan told PTI.

Gaikwad, a stylish opener, had a memorable run last year, aggregating 590 runs in 16 games at an impressive strike rate of 147.50. His breakout year was 2021 when he amassed 635 runs in 16 games.

The 27-year-old from Maharashtra is not new to captaincy, having led the Indian team to the gold medal in the Asian Games last year. He has also led his state side Maharashtra.

CSK and Dhoni share an unbreakable bond and the World Cup-winning captain is expected to keep a significant role in the franchise going forward, albeit not as a player.

CSK had attempted the leadership transition even in the 2022 edition but it did not work out with Ravindra Jadeja handing back the captaincy duties to Dhoni after eight games.

"It didn't work out at that time, this is different," said Visawanathan.

In a media interaction later on Thursday, head coach Stephen Fleming added: "We weren't ready to move away from MS in 2022. Dhoni has a good sense of the game, but we want to develop the young players for the role. We are well prepared this time."

Dhoni officially announced his retirement from international cricket on August 15, 2020 but his engagement in IPL remained intact.

The 42-year-old, who played with a dodgy knee last season, underwent a surgery after leading CSK to their fifth title.

Dhoni has played as many as 250 IPL matches, scoring more than 5000 runs at a strike rate of 135.92.

Due to his knee issues, Dhoni pushed himself down to number 8 in the batting order last season but after regaining full fitness, he is expected to bat higher up this edition.

Former India pacer Irfan Pathan met Dhoni recently and claimed that the latter appears to be in good shape following the knee surgery.

"Last year, Dhoni said he was giving a gift to his fans with his cricket. I met with him a few days ago, he was playing pickleball for two hours non-stop. His knee was as fit as it ever was. It's an exciting time for fans; he now has his vintage old look. Will we get the vintage old Dhoni too?" Pathan asked on Star Sports.

"His role has changed in the past two years. He comes in lower-order, plays lesser deliveries but hits the big shots, the strike rate is high. It's a small innings but a memorable one. I think there won't be much of a change in that this year. He will continue to play that role," said Pathan.

Besides stellar success in the IPL, Dhoni led CSK to two titles in the defunct Champions League. CSK made as many as 10 finals under Dhoni's captaincy. If one includes his 14 games for Rising Pune Supergiant, that extends his IPL captaincy tenure to 226 IPL games with Rohit Sharma being a distant second (158 games).

With Dhoni expected to play the whole season, Gaikwad will have the luxury to lean on the charismatic cricketer in pressure situations.

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