Yet another CSK win was freely credited to Dhoni’s magical man management skills.
Runs rained in Season-16 of the IPL, sometimes as many as five sixes being hit when 28 were needed to win. The stadiums were filled with enthusiastic spectators enjoying a sumptuous league of home and away matches on Indian soil after a hiatus. There were remarkable wicket-taking performances too. Such a season of electric competition would have been ill served if unusual summer rain were to ruin the climax.
A heart-stopping, climactic moment was so excruciating that even the uber-cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni found it unbearable to watch. He had his eyes shut as his all-rounder spanked a six and a four to crown a remarkable final, by far the closest ever in the IPL, for CSK, now five-times champions, downing the defending champion and the league’s newbie Gujarat Titans.
So overwhelmed with emotion was Dhoni that it was with teary eyes that he lifted his match winner Jadeja who had foxed Gill with his away spin to set up a lightning stumping opportunity and then hit the winning strokes too. The occasion seemed to inspire Dhoni into attempting to play one more season to thank millions of fans who lit up the season with yellow T-shirts bearing the cricket legend’s name and number.
The rain god too may have decided not to take a further hand after forcing a T-20 match to go into a third day and testing a game still ill-equipped to deal with rain despite commanding most of all the grand riches of the cricket world. Dhoni’s decision to chase a target rather than defend one even in a tense final paid dividends as the game got shortened by five overs, but only just as the Titans lived up to their name, fighting valiantly to the very last balls of the final over.
In a season of plenty, IPL’s most consistent side, and 10-time finalist, drew level with Mumbai Indians with five trophy triumphs and yet another CSK win was freely credited to Dhoni’s magical man management skills though the 42-year-old got only a golden duck in the final. His acumen in encouraging youth while reinventing older players to suit the T-20 mould and keep his team combination competitive could add another chapter for a business school dissertation.
The season may not have thrown the spotlight on too many young bowlers of promise, but it proved most beneficial to batters. None of them cashed in on form and youth in stupendous fashion as Shubman Gill did in a golden streak of 890 runs, with Yashaswi Jaiswal (625 runs) the pick among those yet to play for the country, followed by the likes of Sai Sudarshan, also of Gujarat Titans, who sparkled in the final in an innings of 96 and Tilak Varma (343 runs) of Mumbai Indians, besides the irrepressible Rinku Singh (474 runs) of KKR who frequently demonstrated that nothing is really impossible in cricket if you decide to calm your mind and put bat to ball.
Overflowing stadiums and TV and digital rights contracts to drool over as they bring in more than a billion dollars a season with matching advertiser response bring IPL one of sport’s biggest and most enviable valuation figures. If only some of it would trickle down to include ground and stadium support staff to smarten the IPL up in keeping with its stature, the IPL could be setting standards of a global league. The outstanding success of the 2023 season might just inspire IPL to aim higher.