Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Proteas stalwart Faf du Plessis vowed on Sunday to both return for Chennai Super Kings in next year’s Indian Premier League, after their team ended Kings XI Punjab’s play-off hopes in both sides’ final game of the season.
Du Plessis made a solid 48 off 34 deliveries, sharing a 82-run opening stand with Ruturaj Gaikwad to put Chennai on their way to a comprehensive but consolation nine-wicket victory.
While the former national skipper will now return to South Africa, his value in this year’s tournament couldn’t be underestimated as led the team’s batting charts with 449 runs in 13 innings.
Interestingly, the 36-year-old – who still has a national contract – said his career was still far from over.
“I have got a lot of cricket left in me, at least five years,” said Du Plessis.
That will certainly give national coach Mark Boucher and a new selection panel some hope during a gloomy time for local cricket.
However, 39-year-old Dhoni admitted that Chennai – which has many over-35s including Du Plessis and Shane Watson – would need an overhaul before going into next season, scheduled for April-May.
And coach Stephen Fleming said it would be a “great challenge” to rebuild the team – dubbed “Dad’s army” in the media – for the upcoming season.
Three-time IPL winners Chennai were the first of the eight teams to drop out of contention, raising doubts about captain Dhoni’s future with the franchise.
But they signed off their campaign with three successive triumphs, including this comprehensive victory in Abu Dhabi.
Punjab, who had been rooted to the foot of the table for much of the tournament, ended with back-to-back defeats after a five-match winning streak had got KL Rahul’s men back into contention.
Veteran wicketkeeper-batsman Dhoni, who ended his international career in August, assured fans ahead of the match that he would return in the yellow jersey.
“Definitely not,” Dhoni said at the toss when he was asked by former New Zealand paceman Danny Morrison if the game against Punjab was his last for Chennai.
The comment set Twitter alight, with the hashtag #DefinitelyNot trending in India.
Chennai kept Punjab to 153-6 and then surpassed the total in 18.5 overs with Gaikwad hitting an unbeaten 62 – his third successive half-century.
“We need to slightly change our core group and look for the next 10 years,” Dhoni said after the win.
“At the start of the IPL (in 2008) we made a team and it served well for us 10 years. There comes a time when (you) need to shift and change a bit and hand it over to the next generation.”
Gaikwad, 23, has been one of the few impressive younger players in the team, which includes England’s 22-year-old all-rounder Sam Curran.