Dhoni farewell buzz at every IPL venue
Only the 41-year-old India great knows if this is really his last IPL. For now, he’s the one driving viewership and filling stadiums at the IPL.
It’s a tribute to MS Dhoni’s wider appeal that at 41 he continues to be a crowd-puller above everyone else at the Indian Premier League (IPL). Last Sunday, yellow fever gripped Eden Gardens during Chennai Super Kings’ game against Kolkata Knight Riders. Even in Bengaluru against Royal Challengers Bangalore, CSK supporters outnumbered the home side. In Ahmedabad and Mumbai too, crowds painted several stands in CSK’s yellow.
This outpouring of love for Dhoni is not restricted to the grounds. It’s reflected in the IPL viewership too. The India legend has batted a total of 31 balls in this IPL. It averages 4.4 balls per match. It’s the least time spent at the crease for the CSK skipper and we’re already midway through the season.
DHONI DRIVES RATINGS
For his fleeting presence, in anticipation of seeing their superhero turn back the clock, fans have tuned in to create the highest peak moments in IPL’s digital viewership. When not wielding his heavy willow, he’s sporting camouflage-themed gloves and directing his troops from behind the stumps. The TV cameras zoom into the CSK dressing room even when he’s cooling his heels and it evokes a roar from the crowd.
The closing stages of CSK’s away match against RCB – Chennai successfully defended 226 to win by 8 runs – saw a record 2.4 crore people tuning in. When Dhoni walked out to bat, facing one ball, the viewership on Jio Cinema shot up to 2.2 crore. The previous record for IPL’s digital consumption was 1.86 crore on Hotstar during last year’s final between Gujarat Titans and Rajasthan Royals.
Last year’s numbers were topped in one other match, Dhoni’s 200th in IPL. The viewership high was clocked when his finishing flourish was on display against Rajasthan Royals. His most effective innings of the season yet (32* -- 17b) almost won CSK the match from a near impossible position before pacer Sandeep Sharma won it for RR.
“For one moment, 2.2 crore Indians held their breath. Old memories rushed back. A familiar expectation took over. It didn’t quite end like it used to but for one moment, time stood still for 20 million+ people. One moment. One MS Dhoni,” Jio Cinema tweeted.
When CSK’s ‘thala’ launched into Lucknow Super Kings’ Mark Wood for two sixes, the eyeballs (1.7 crore) were higher than the interest generated by Rinku Singh’s last-over six-shower for KKR.
The viewership highs this year may have a lot to do with IPL being free to watch but Dhoni mania is there for all to see. With CSK’s chances to make the playoffs looking bright and two knockout matches scheduled in Chennai, analysts are predicting IPL’s digital viewership to touch an all-time high.
The highest digital viewership in cricket till date was during the closing stages of the India-New Zealand 2019 ODI World Cup semi-final (2.53 crore). Coincidentally, Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja were the lead acts during that phase, a tense run chase where India ultimately fell short.
ON GROUND FRENZY
IPL’s return to home-and-away after three years and the farewell sentiment around Dhoni has led to fans around the country jostling for tickets for CSK matches.
Dhoni said at the Eden: “Most of these guys will come in a KKR jersey next time. They are trying to give me a farewell, so thanks a lot to the crowd.”
At home, the ‘whistle podu’ express – a chartered train run by CSK to bring people from the interiors of Tamil Nadu to Chennai – adds to the flavour. “That’s only 750 people. What we are seeing is spontaneous support for the team,” said CSK CEO KS Viswanathan. “Of course, it’s got a lot to do with MS Dhoni.”
The Dhoni retirement talk notwithstanding, the four-time winners remain the best supported and watched team in the league. According to a Group M analysis of IPL 2022 trends, CSK’s avg TV ratings (4.83) were the highest, better than RCB and Mumbai Indians. In terms of social media conversations too, CSK topped the list with RCB next.
“It helps that our on-field performance has been consistent over the years,” said Viswanathan. “But CSK fans have always been loyal.” The Chennai franchise had not slipped on any popularity metric when they returned in 2018 after a two-year suspension amidst the spot-fixing saga. And they lived up to the hype by making a winning comeback.
Dhoni’s aura continues to grow. After every game, Dhoni is surrounded by the young and seasoned players for his post-match analysis. A bunch of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s young hopefuls stood around for a mentoring session after the game. Typical of Dhoni, he has kept everyone guessing if there will be another IPL season.
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