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It was MS Dhoni‘s call to hand over the Chennai Super Kings captaincy to Ruturaj Gaikwad, ahead of IPL 2024, their head coach Stephen Fleming has revealed on the eve of the tournament opener in Chennai.

“It was MS [Dhoni’s decision] with a lot of consideration and one view to the future on the back of a good season last year,” Fleming said at his press conference on Thursday. “The timing was good. Behind the scenes, Ruturaj and others have been on a, say, a captaincy-grooming process, looking forward to days like this and the opportunities come up, but MS is the best judge and he felt the time was right.”

For the second time in the last three seasons, CSK have sprung a surprise by naming a new captain on the eve of a season opener. In 2022, Ravindra Jadeja had taken over as captain from Dhoni, but the transition wasn’t particularly smooth with Jadeja stepping down midway through the season after CSK had lost six of their first eight games during that season.

Dhoni took back the leadership and then led CSK to a fifth title in IPL 2023 to draw level with Mumbai Indians.

Fleming said that the captaincy switch in 2022 was bit of a wake-up call and that the franchise is now better-prepared to work under a new captain and build for the future.

“Well, the big thing about a couple of years ago was that we probably weren’t ready for MS to move aside,” Fleming said. “And what that did was probably shake us as a leadership group or coaches into looking at the possibility when he does go. And up until that stage, it was almost unthinkable, but it sowed the seed. So, we’ve worked pretty hard on making sure that any mistakes that were made during then aren’t made again. And that the leadership isn’t a secret.”

Fleming also suggested there could be some on-field mentorship from Dhoni – and other senior players – to help Gaikwad ease into the new role. Gaikwad becomes only the third player other than Dhoni to lead CSK in the IPL. The 27-year-old has led Maharashtra in 13 T20s and India in three T20Is during the Asian games in Hangzhou, where they won the gold medal.

“Yeah, I hope so. It’s getting that balance right without interfering, but also providing that leadership that you can’t ignore,” Fleming said. “It’s been too long and he’s too big a presence that you don’t just turn that off, you use it. And finding that balance and being able to use the Jadejas and Dhonis and help Ruturaj as he develops is very important. In the middle, we’ll take a little bit of trial and error to a degree.

“Ruturaj is very self-assured. Again, he’s not the most demonstrative captain or person around, but he’s got a very good approach with his fellow players and he’s very well-respected. So I think my understanding from the senior players is the desire to help.”

Gaikwad is looking forward to leaning on the experience of Dhoni and Co. “[It] feels good. It’s a privilege, but more than that, it is a huge responsibility,” Gaikwad told CSK’s social-media channels. “I am really excited because of the kind of group we have. Everyone is experienced enough. So there is not much of a thing for me to do. I have Mahi [Dhoni] bhai in the team, Jaddu [Jadeja] bhai, and Ajju [Rahane] bhai, who have been great captains to guide me.”

Gaikwad is one of CSK’s biggest success stories in the IPL. In the 2019 auction, CSK snapped him up for his base price of INR 20 lakh and though he had a rough start in the middle order in IPL 2020 in the UAE, having just recovered from Covid-19 at the time, he has pressed onto become a versatile opener. CSK’s team management is particularly pleased with the evolution of Gaikwad.

“So, we’ve been working very hard on making sure that the plans are in place, [so] that all players are more self-sufficient,” Fleming said. “And we are. It’s not [the case that] MS only has a wonderful sense of the game, but one of the things we’re proud of is the development of young players.

“Last year [Tushar] Deshpande came through and then own that space and has done well in domestic cricket. So, it proves that giving ownership and trust to players really works. It’s not just the captain’s job to pull the strings.

“So, we’re looking at that. And as I say, we’re more prepared now because they jolted us into looking at life after [Dhoni]. And in some ways, we’ve been a bit slow in doing that as a management group.”

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo



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