When the 16th edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) gets underway from March 31, talismanic Chennai Super King skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be the only captain to lead the same side ever since the inaugural edition of the cash-rich league in 2008.
In his 16-year long journey at IPL, Dhoni has seen it all -- winning multiple titles, getting banned for two years in between, handing over captaincy to Ravindra Jadeja before taking it back again -- at CSK. But, as nothing lasts forever, this IPL season could be his last as a player with four-time champions CSK.
Though there has not been any official statement on this count either from the CSK management or Dhoni, there are some obvious hints at his retirement from IPL. Handing over captaincy to Jadea last year was a big indication that the former India captain is looking for his successor at the Chennai-based franchise.
Though the move failed as the star all-rounder couldn't handle the pressure well, it was clear that Dhoni wants to groom someone for the leadership role. As far as his fitness is concerned, Dhoni is still one of the fittest Indian cricketers and can even give young players a run for their money.
His tactical acumen is still by far the best in comparison to other skippers in IPL. However, the only concern about Dhoni is that he doesn't play any other form of competitive cricket except IPL, so his match preparedness, which helps in taking the right decision at the right time, can be a factor.
As of now, 41-year old Dhoni, who has led CSK to four IPL titles, will captain the franchise in the upcoming season as they open their campaign against defending champions Gujarat Titans in the opening match in Ahmedabad on March 31.
But it will be interesting to see whether there will be any twist in the tale in terms of captaincy as was the case last year. It has been learnt that the Chepauk stadium in Chennai is gearing up for 'Thala's' farewell match.
The game against Kolkata Knight Riders on May 14 will be CSK's last home game of IPL 2023, so it might be Dhoni's last game for the franchise if they don't qualify for the playoffs.
Notably, Dhoni in November 2021 had confirmed that his last T20 game will be in Chennai, but whether it will be next year or in five years' time, he doesn't know. "I have always planned my cricket.
My last home game in ODI was at my hometown in Ranchi. So, hopefully, my last T20 will be in Chennai. Whether it's next year or in five years' time, I don't really know," Dhoni had said at that time.
Since then, TV commentators have asked him multiple times about his retirement plans, but Dhoni has always kept his options open. The World Cup-winning captain rarely interacts with the media.
He is not that active on social media either. So it's quite difficult to predict what will be his next move. But if indeed Dhoni decides to hang his boots from the cash-rich league after this season, it will be an emotional occasion for the CSK fans.
He might be associated with the franchise in some role in future, but that feeling will be missing for sure.