I’m writing this on the aftermath of last night’s IPL final.
I’ve not fallen in love with too many things in my life. If I think hard, I can count them with the fingers on one hand. But I’ve fallen in love with you. It took a while coming, as I wasn’t your biggest fan growing up. You were this guy with long hair, who played cricket with unconventional technique which never appealed to a purist like me. In one of your first moves as captain of the Indian cricket team you threw Dada and his associates out. You won World Cups in 2007 and 2011 but it was never about you. You won IPL titles in 2010 and 2011 but IPL was not what it is now; the quality, the attention, the frenzy. Your team got banned soon. For those two years, I didn’t follow IPL, or even cricket for that matter. Much like most of Chennai, no CSK meant no IPL for me.
People were commenting that the era of MS Dhoni was over. The man with the will to wield wild helicopter shots in the last over to win you games. The captain and champion. The man with lightning quick hands behind the stumps. Then 2018 happened. And what a memorable resurgence it was! A script George RR Martin would be proud of. Throughout the tournament, my respect for you grew manifold. While the Indian team had other stars, in CSK, you were the star. I saw MS Dhoni, the genius tactician, the smiling assassin, the finisher reborn. MS Dhoni, the father who plays with his daughter on the green grass when the rest of his team celebrates the most fairytale of comebacks in the history of the sport. As far as second innings’ go, it doesn’t get better than that, does it? You managed to create a trust very few people do. You made me think, “When our team is chasing and Dhoni is at the crease, we won’t lose”.
You constructed a team that defied all logic. You won the title in 2018 with a bunch of cricketers mostly in the wrong side of 30s, many of them not playing international cricket anymore. That’s why I was slightly skeptical at the start of this year’s IPL. A creaking squad with no major additions. If you had told me at the start that we’ll finish as a finalist, I might have taken it. But no, who am I kidding? As a CSK supporter, I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than the title.
Defending a trophy is no mean feat in any sport. True, there were a lot of hiccups along the journey this year. Your brilliance behind and in front of the wickets papered a lot of the cracks in our team. Your trust in our players, Shane Watson for example, was galvanizing to say the least. Your breathtaking innings against RCB in Bangalore which I was fortunate enough to watch at the stadium moved me. Hope is a wonderful thing. It’s what keeps you going, until it comes crashing down. You were our harbinger of hope and it was the hope of victory that killed me yesterday. It broke my heart. More so because the opponents were our Kryptonite. I’ll make my peace with it someday. I shall pacify by telling myself that the more consistent team won.
For a city and its people who were suffering from an identity crisis and had lost their way a bit, you were a tonic. Chennai and Thala Dhoni was an arranged marriage made in heaven. I hadn’t witnessed any cricketer so invested in a city and its people. The last time I saw someone this loved was superstar Rajinikanth. It’s a special relationship that I’m glad to be a part of. I went to Chennai’s Chepauk Stadium to watch an IPL game for the first time in seven years and I was overwhelmed by what I saw. The stadium was painted a sea of yellow and the crowd went absolutely berserk every time you came on strike. The noise levels were unprecedented. I’ve heard of ‘great atmospheres’ at football stadiums like Anfield in England, about how the crowd intimidates the opposition into surrendering. And I’m very proud to see the whole city of Chennai get behind one man and his cricket team. No, scratch that. Their cricket team. Our cricket team.
You’d be surprised to see how much of an impact you’ve created in our city, country and to the sport of cricket at large. I was walking along the streets of the local market the other day when I noticed a group of pretty young boys and girls sitting on the pavement, with the sports section of the newspaper spread out, discussing if Dhoni’s Chennai can prevail over Mumbai in the first qualifier. Most local street clothing stores have CSK tees and caps on display. Chennai, the city with yellow autos and yellow sun rising from the horizon now has an identity: the yellow army, led by the men in yellow jersey who wear their hearts on their sleeves. What’s more, we have Parasakthi Express Tahir and Thirubhajan Singh writing poems in Tamil on their Twitter accounts.
I remember Ravichandran Ashwin, in an interview back when he was playing for CSK mention how he wanted us to be the Manchester United of Indian cricket. For the decade old Arsenal fan in me, it wasn’t an easy analogy to accept back then. But I see what he meant now. Success breeds success. I don’t know if brand Chennai Super Kings has what it takes to get there. But with India’s population and obsession with the sport, you never know.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from sport, it’s that you don’t always win. Every time you lose, you get an opportunity to bounce back. Just that when you bounce back, you want to make sure it counts. They say in times of adversity, people come together. That’s what makes this team special. The bond gets stronger year after year. Here’s to a solid year of rebuilding. Let’s go get that title next season!
PS: Please take it easy on the heart. #yellove