By R Vishal
“It is a harsh verdict that leaves fans in the middle of nowhere. If someone had to be penalised, it is the guilty party, not the team”, says a Chennai Super Kings (CSK) loyalist, Shriram, whom you can often find, roaming around cluelessly outside Chepauk.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) side’s ouster from the lucrative mega league has left the fans clutching at straws; clueless and directionless during the summer. Temperatures would touch the mid 40s in Chennai but the fans thronged the MA Chidambaram Stadium, dressed in a sea of yellow. Unlike many other cities, CSK became one of the city’s identities. Now, there is a irreplaceable vacuum. These are indeed dark times for the fans, many of whom have an identity crisis now.
“This season I supported Rising Pune Supergiants, only for Thala (MS) Dhoni”, says Vignesh, an IT Professional from the city. The Pune outfit started with plenty of promise, but a tepid bowling attack and injuries to several overseas stars meant that the side cut a cropper in the league.
RPS languished at the bottom of the table at the end of the season, and interest faded away. Even Dhoni’s Midas touch — which helped CSK to two IPL titles, a Champions League T20, and four separate occasions where they finished as the losing finalists, could not help RPS save face. Some Chennai fans, after cautiously deciding to support the CSK outfit, were now gleeful at their own hero cutting a sorry figure.
Perhaps, they feared Dhoni quickly putting the CSK chapter behind him and moving on to greener pastures elsewhere.
The Dhoni factor
Mohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Murali Vijay made their name with CSK before going on to become mainstays in the Indian team. The side needed an able leader and given the Chennai outfit’s clout back in 2008, they got the prize catch of the World Cup winning Indian captain. The people of Chennai lapped it up.
There were hoardings of Dhoni everywhere. Arguably, he was the most popular figure after Matinee Idol, Rajinikanth. The loudest cheers at the MAC was reserved for him. Many believed that his CSK experience helped him while playing for India too. There were victories galore and the men in yellow were the favourites to win the title every year. On most occasions, they atleast reached the summit event.
There is barely any buzz about Mumbai Indians in Mumbai, or Kolkata Knight Riders in Kolkata. The IPL sides are merely a distraction during the summer. The aforementioned cities have plenty of history from a bygone era. This is not to say that Chennai doesn’t have them.
Like a football club in England or Spain, CSK became a part of the city’s five pillars. Anyone entering Chennai would be greeted with “You are in the city of Chennai Super Kings” at the airport. Kids would proudly wear CSK’s apparel while playing at Marina beach. Even the non Chennai-ites took a great deal of pride, painting their faces in yellow and cheering their lungs out, attending every game.
The road ahead
After being suspended, the stars — Suresh Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin, Dwyane Bravo and Dhoni have been snapped up Pune and Gujarat Lions. There is a famous saying that states that success breeds more success, and more hatred. That example, could not have had a better example in the world of cricket than CSK. Even towards the north of the Vindhyas, the team won hearts through their charismatic skipper, flamboyance and team spirit.
On the other hand, there were a large legion of fans who loved to see their downfall too. RPS turning out to be an automatic second choice team for the vast majority of CSK fans didn’t help matters either. RPS’ fortunes plummeted like the ‘Pound’ post Brexit.
David, an avid street cricketer gave a glimpse about the fickle mentality of new-age cricketing fans. He says, “Many passionately took to supporting RPS at the start of the IPL. Winning plays a very pivotal part and many of my mates moved on to Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore as the tournament progressed, even ignoring the famous Tamil Nadu-Karnataka rivalry in the process.”
Pride comes before the fall for some, who have pledged to go into hibernation till CSK resurfaces. Aravind, a college student says, “People who jumped to the RPS bandwagon or other sides during this year’s IPL can stay there. The last thing die-hard fans like me want to see is ‘plastic’ piling up. Real fans would have till the birth of the new-look CSK side.”
The fans are anxiously waiting for the time to run down on another year. Irrespective of what transpires from here, CSK will be etched in the memory of fans from the cricket-crazy city, who now reminisce about Raina’s pyrotechnics, Bravo’s impromptu dance moves, and Dhoni’s finishing over a cup of ‘filter’ coffee.
(Chennai boy R Vishal is currently a Mumbai based sports writer. His Twitter handle is @vishhell)