India vs West Indies: Chennai braced for a Twenty20 without MS Dhoni
After massive protests by Cauvery activists which saw six Indian Premier League matches this season shifted out of Chennai, the venue is back to hosting India’s final home game this year in which the World No 2 T20 side will aim for clean sweep against a struggling West Indies.
But there is an unmistakable sense of emptiness among the fans who will be bracing to watch a T20 not featuring their ‘Thalaivar’. There is no one word that can sum up Chennai’s affection for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was dropped from the India T20 squad as part of their plans for the 2020 World Twenty20 in Australia.
Cricket fans in Chennai are known to keep their emotions in check. Despite Sachin Tendulkar’s valiant knock in a losing cause against Pakistan in 1999, the crowd at Chepauk gave a standing ovation to Wasim Akram’s team. But it’s fair to say Dhoni has changed equations. Fans wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to the Chennai Super Kings captain. The way Dhoni has connected with this city, he has earned every bit of this unconditional love.
“It’s sad that thala (leader in Tamil) will not be here on Sunday. We are going to miss him,” said a fan called Bhava. “We are Thala’s super fans. It’s difficult to imagine an India and CSK side without him,” said another fan named Jayanand.
One fan expressed his sentiment about India skipper Virat Kohli, who was rested because of the grueling schedule: “The kind of form he’s in, it would have been great had he played. (I) will miss those cover drives.” Though fans will miss the two powerhouses, the MA Chidambaram stadium will be abuzz with cricket fanatics from around the city and other states. “We are expecting a full house. We still have some time. Around 75-80% of the tickets have been sold,” said a Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) official.
Given West Indies’ prowess in T20s, Sunday’s match could have been the most consequential tie of the tour. But the story has been the same across formats in the last 40 days — India’s continued domination and West Indies’ inability to cash in on big moments. In the absence of Dhoni, Kohli and all-rounder Hardik Pandya, youngsters Khaleel Ahmed and Krunal Pandya have stepped up, showing India’s reserves depth ahead of the tours of Australia and New Zealand.
India’s tour of Australia comprises of three T20s on November 21, 23 and 25 before a four-match Test series and a three-match ODI series. Starting well makes a huge difference Down Under, even if it’s in a T20 series. Sunday provides India the last opportunity to make those real-time checks and balances before they set sail for Australia.