The independent voice of cricket

IPL 2024

MS Dhoni steals ‘the hearts of the faithfuls’ on ‘final’ bow in Lucknow

MS Dhoni walked out to rapturous applause at the Ekana on Friday night and Sarah Waris tries to understand the emotions behind his reverence.
Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

MS Dhoni walked out to rapturous applause at the Ekana on Friday night and Sarah Waris, who was at the venue, tries to understand the emotions behind his reverence.

“Dilwalon ke dil ka qaraar luutne, tu aayi hai UP-Bihar luutne..”

[You have arrived to steal the hearts of the faithfuls in UP (Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar].

You always knew this was going to be a match like none other – 19th April was spoken more in terms of MS Dhoni’s probable last game in Lucknow than the beginning of the General Elections. Plenty of LSG banners, otherwise conspicuously absent during the first three weeks of the IPL, were to be found in plenty, many of them containing ‘Thala’ references. Online food delivery portals even started slipping customised cards into every brown bag, reminding foodies to enjoy the game with plenty of orders on match day. He was here to win the hearts and minds, alright.

Hawkers, anticipating the demand came prepared. Golu Prasad, who has been journeying across the country during the ongoing Indian Premier League and travelled overnight from Mullanpur to Lucknow, has been selling kits since 2012. “I have bought 150 jerseys with me for today’s match. I don’t have Lucknow ones because by now I know what the demand in each city is.” He might have been kinder to the home team and their fans, I mumbled to myself, but then what did I know?

Friday was the hottest day of the year in Lucknow, with temperatures already touching 41 degrees and the sea of bright yellow metaphorically standing as the heat wave you had to navigate to reach the ground. Once there, it was all about waiting for that one moment. Chennai batting first delayed Dhoni’s sighting but it also added to the drama – The impatient patience every time a wicket fell and it wasn’t the long-maned keeper who walked out, the few seconds between the disappearance of the dismissed batter and the emergence of the next wrought with excitement and hope, the 45,257-strong crowd tilting their strained heads towards the staircase, almost on cue. Nope, not again. Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube, Sameer Rizvi and then Moeen Ali walked out after the openers, teasing the fans almost on Dhoni’s instruction.

Eventually, it reached a point of fear: What if he doesn’t get a chance to bat? Would it all have been for nothing? 14 balls were all that were left in the innings and Moeen Ali was looking good, having hit a hat-trick of sixes against Ravi Bishnoi. But wait, didn’t the fans robed in yellow want CSK to pull back into the game? Maybe, but surely not at the expense of them being able to pay tribute to a superstar possibly for the last time.

And then the ball to dismiss Moeen: A googly by Bishnoi that saw the batter miscue it to deep mid-wicket. As Ayush Badoni got under the ball and clung on safely, the stadium erupted. Not at the crucial wicket the home side had taken, not because an under-confident Bishnoi claimed only his fifth wicket of the tournament. It was buzzing, it was deafening because it was finally time.

As Dhoni walked down the long staircase and into the public glare, the magnitude of the occasion was not lost on any. A standing ovation, a screeching, shrieking, whistling applause. Tens and thousands of paparazzi in the crowd with their mobile flashes out, scramming for that one picture with the green turf, yellow seats and white-lighted background. Smartwatches issued a health warning of “temporary hearing loss” because of the sudden spike in the sound decibels and even the usually neutral press box thronged the balcony outside to soak in a truly once-in-a-lifetime moment as a city came together to celebrate arguably India’s biggest superstar of recent times.

What followed in the next ten minutes was a blur. Dhoni was unbeaten on 28 off nine balls with two sixes, including a 101-metre shot, along with three fours but who cared where the ball was hit, where it went, and against whom it came. For those nine deliveries meant so much more. It wrapped up a journey of 20 years, taking us back to the exuberant player from Ranchi who was run out for a duck on his debut, through the last-ball sixes to clinch games from a position of improbability to his criticism in the latter half of his career and his resurgence again. The different hairstyles, the same cheeky grin. Matches captained, tournaments won. Through different generations of players, through all the questioning he has faced from his former teammates. His silence through it all as he preferred riding a tractor on his strawberry farm instead, having restricted his public appearances to just the IPL in the last few years.

Dhoni got me involved in cricket like he must have done so many more and visiting stadiums whenever Chennai played at Eden Gardens became an annual routine. Yet, Friday was unlike any other experience. The goosebump-inducing moment when he walked in during an away game yet had the entire ground to himself only suggested the humility with which he played while taking India to the heights in ICC events. It is ultimately what earns you such respect.

To call watching Chennai play this season a festival might be hyperbole but on a day where political affiliations and ideologies divided the country, Dhoni stood as a soothing balm in Lucknow, showing fans that there’s beauty in unity and that devotion is earned, not demanded.

As the in-house deejay strummed “Dilwalon ke dil ka qaraar luutne, main aayi hai UP-Bihar luutne…” it was made clearer.

Subscribe to the Wisden Cricket YouTube channel for post-match analysis, player interviews, and much more.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99