Soon after winning his fifth IPL title as the Chennai Super Kings captain, MS Dhoni chose to not opt for the fairytale ending to his career and vowed to return for "at least" one more season for the fans, if his body allowed it.
Dhoni said retiring after winning the title would be the "best time," but he wanted to "gift" his fans another season even if it was "tough" to work on his body for another nine months to play again.
"If you see circumstantially this is the best time for me to announce retirement," Dhoni said at the presentation after the final against Gujarat Titans. "But the amount of love and affection I've been shown wherever I've been this year, the easy thing for me would be to say, 'Thank you very much'. But the tough thing for me is to work hard for another nine months and come back and play at least one more season of IPL. But a lot depends on the body, I have six-seven months to decide and it will be more like a gift from my side [to the fans]. It's not easy for me but the way they've shown their love and affection, that's something I need to do for them.
"You do get emotional for a simple fact that it's the last part of my career and I think it started over here when I was playing the first game [of IPL 2023]. I just walked out and the full house was chanting my name. My eyes filled with [tears] and I just stood there in the dugout for a while, and I took my time and I realised that I want to enjoy it and not take the pressure. I think it was the same thing in Chennai, when I played my last game there, but it will be good to come back and play whatever I can."
Dhoni, who will turn 42 in July, batted at Nos. 7 and 8 this season while managing an injury to his left knee. He entertained his fans by striking at 182.45 in 12 innings, scoring 104 runs off just 57 balls with 10 sixes.
When asked how he stayed grounded with so much love and fandom around him, Dhoni said: "I think they love me for who I am. Being grounded is something they like in me. Also the fact that the kind of cricket I play, everyone in the stadium feels they can play that kind of cricket because there's nothing orthodox about it. I feel they can relate to me more than anyone else. But as I said, I don't want to change myself or never wanted to portray myself in a way which I'm not. So I just like to keep it simple."
It was far from a perfect performance from CSK in the final. They dropped catches in the beginning, including one of the in-form Shubman Gill, missed run-outs, and conceded overthrows to see Titans post 214. After a rain break, CSK were set a revised target of 171 from 15 overs which they chased down with last-ball heroics from Ravindra Jadeja, who struck a straight six followed by a four on the last ball when they needed 10 to win from the last two balls.
"What's fascinating about the IPL is when it comes to the crunch game, that's the time you want your individuals to be ready," Dhoni said. "I feel that's something we have done, but there have been lapses. We've not talked a lot about today's game but I don't think we started it the right way and through the game there were lapses. But again we came back; when the bowling department didn't do their work, it was the batting department that took their pressure off."
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Dhoni has been credited immensely this season for backing a number of youngsters such as Tushar Deshpande, Shivam Dube and Matheesha Pathirana while also bringing the best out of the older players such as Ajinkya Rahane, Moeen Ali and Ambati Rayudu to give them a second coming. But did Dhoni also get frustrated when someone didn't perform their role to perfection?
"I do get frustrated, being human all of us get frustrated," he said, "but I try to step into their shoes as to what really happened. The way everyone handles pressure is different, the amount of pressure every individual can deal with is different. So it's important to realise that and groom them so that when you are there they perform, and when you're not there still they know how they need to perform.
"Ajinkya is experienced and there some others too, so I don't worry a lot about them and I want them to take that responsibility. [I tell them] if they're confused, please come, ask whatever you want to but overall they have taken the responsibility today."
Among the senior CSK players, Dhoni showered praise on Ambati Rayudu, who announced his retirement before the final and played a decisive role in the game. He was on 3 when CSK needed 39 off 18 balls and he smashed Mohit Sharma for 6, 4 and 6 before handing a return catch on the fourth ball of the 13th over, but after he had reduced the equation to a more gettable 22 off 14 balls.
"The special thing about Rayudu is if he's on the field he'll give 100%," Dhoni said. "The second thing is, with him in the team I will never win the Fairplay award because he reacts too quickly. But what I will remember him for is he always gives his 100%, he wants to contribute, he has been a fantastic cricketer right from [when] we played India A together. He's somebody who plays spin and fast bowlers equally well. I always felt that in this game he will do something special. I'm very happy for him. This is one game he'll remember for a very long time. He's also like me, doesn't use the phone a lot, but he had a fantastic career. What is important is to enjoy it and take it into the next phase of life."