In Search of ‘Thala’ Dhoni: Exploring the Essence of Chennai’s Iconic Leader

Two days ahead of IPL 2023 Qualifier 1, a candid discussion can be anticipated in Chennai. The excitement will revolve around the Chennai Super Kings and their iconic leader, MS Dhoni. This particular week holds a lot of significance as it could potentially mark Dhoni’s last appearance at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, with passionate fans keenly watching him perform, even as CSK emerge victorious against GT and seal a spot in the final Do it and go to Ahmedabad or face one. Defeat, due to which they again had to play an eliminator match in Ahmedabad the next day.

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The city has wholeheartedly adopted MSD as one of its own, and rightfully so. CSK have consistently proved themselves as one of the most successful IPL teams, and under the exceptional captaincy of Dhoni, they have won several championships. The people of Chennai look up to Dhoni as a respected leader who has brought immense pride and glory to their beloved city. They enthusiastically rally behind him and the team, filling the iconic MA Chidambaram Stadium with an electrifying sea of ​​yellow.

As soon as you step out of the air-conditioned comfort of the aeroplane, you immediately feel the incredible grip of the hot and humid weather of Chennai. The anticipation of being in ‘Dhoni land’ offers a faint glimmer of relief, making the experience a little more bearable.

However, the city of Chennai appears to have a laid-back demeanor, although this may be a subjective observation influenced by Delhi’s bustling energy. Yet, during the sweltering heat of the afternoon, the city paused for a moment, and my colleague and I embarked on a quest to find the essence of Dhoni in Chennai – to capture the unique vibe that surrounds him in the city.


The first order of business was to visit the Chepauk Stadium, which is conveniently located in the heart of the city and close to Marina Beach. As we approached the stadium, it was impossible to ignore the giant floodlights and elaborate canopy structures. The Chepauk Stadium stands as a living testament to the city’s deep affection for cricket, which holds the distinction of being the second oldest cricket stadium in India. Today, it has developed into a sacred ground, revered by CSK fans as the holy abode of the ‘Whistle Podu Army’.

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With the installation of vibrant branding adorning the stadium, Chepauk was abuzz with playoff preparations. As we strolled by, the atmosphere was filled with the bustling activity of workers preparing for Qualifier 1. In just two days’ time, the stadium will pulsate with electric energy as around 36,000 enthusiastic fans will gather to witness the spectacle of ‘Thala’. in the process.

However, for the time being, Babu Jagjivan Ram Street, the road leading to the Madras Cricket Club Gate, experienced a quieter atmosphere. The street appeared relatively quiet, with only vibrant yellow autos attracting our attention, along with the occasional local proudly sporting CSK jerseys, often adorned with the iconic number 7, the MSD symbol.


Right on the corner, stands Dhoni Sports – a sportswear store that demands attention. In a street full of sports outlets, this particular establishment shines brightly, even overshadowing the large signboard of another store named Sachin Sports.

Mohammad Arif, the owner of Dhoni Sports, set up this shop over a decade ago inspired by his deep admiration for the revered ‘Thala’ (leader) Dhoni. Be it true love or a strategic marketing move, it undeniably proves to be a masterstroke.

Arif eagerly dreams of the day Dhoni himself will grace his shop, and firmly believes that this is not the end of MSD’s remarkable journey. He anticipates a booming business for his shop in the days to come.


Amid the scorching heat, within the confines of the stadium, diligent curators (we assume) were hard at work, meticulously preparing the pitch, perhaps attempting to create the quintessential slow-burn Chepauk patti.

After the recent Delhi game, head coach Stephen Fleming candidly expressed his team’s struggle in understanding the Chepauk track this season. Customizing the GT would also be challenging. Notably, this will mark the first appearance of the Hardik Pandya-led team at the venue on May 23!

Late on Monday night, the teams made their arrival, with GT securing a win over Royal Challengers Bangalore in Bengaluru the previous evening, knocking them out of the tournament. Meanwhile, the CSK bandwagon traveled from Delhi after their last league match.

While there is no media presser scheduled for May 22, the excitement will be palpable as fans eagerly await the Yellow Brigade’s practice session. Of course the focus will be on MSD, if he does indeed appear. And rest assured, as soon as Dhoni steps out to the crease and even during practice sessions, the DJ will amp up the ambiance with a selection of enticing Tamil songs.

And perhaps, that will serve as a signal for Chennai to wake up, and we will perhaps experience the essence of Dhoni in Chennai. We will witness why he commands such deep reverence and adoration and even attains a divine status. We will understand why the people of Chennai wholeheartedly invest in their own support and appreciation, value and cherish this hero – who is not a local – above all others.