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All eyes are on cricket legend MS Dhoni ahead of India’s biggest sporting event

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During the ongoing Indian Premier League – cricket’s multi-billion dollar behemoth that goes beyond sport every April and May – it was almost a farewell tour for national hero MS Dhoni.

Due to his popularity and reverence in cricket-mad India, 41-year-old Dhoni could be the only player who can take on the sport’s megastar Virat Kohli, whose dream of a drought-breaking IPL title has yet again been dashed.

While Kohli is bombastic and pushy — and not shy about flaunting his private life on his social media accounts with large followings — the pragmatic Dhoni is much more low-key and prefers to keep a low profile.

He’s the cricket equivalent of former NBA superstar Tim Duncan, except his fame in India is a little closer to LeBron James’ – Dhoni’s standing is such that his life story was once made into a major Bollywood film.

So it’s not surprising that this IPL season has been all about Dhoni, with fans – even from rival teams – cheering for him amidst surreal scenes and uncertain futures. His games drew large crowds in all venues and the stands were packed with shirts in tribute.

While Dhoni is clearly touched by the affection, he’s not someone who wants the spotlight. It’s not his way to relay hints about his departure like LeBron did after the Lakers’ season ended.

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Dhoni announced his retirement from international cricket via social media and there is speculation he will do something similar with the IPL. He certainly won’t drop the bombshell before or after Sunday’s IPL final between the Chennai Super Kings and the Gujarat Titans – which would impact the entire billion people and beyond.

“The small auction will take place around December, so why bother now? I have plenty of time to make up my mind,” Dhoni said recently, adding that he has “eight to nine months” to make a decision.

For now, though, Dhoni is just focused on leading the Super Kings to a title on the biggest day on Indian sporting calendar – something even more obsessively pursued than the Super Bowl in the US

Having led the Super Kings thus far, it was a remarkable feat from the steadfast Dhoni who led this brilliant campaign much like he did leading mighty India to 50 and 20-over World Cup trophies

Even at his advanced age and plagued by a creaking knee, Dhoni is still capable of making the right moves and his leadership has inspired the Super Kings to be on the cusp of their fifth title.

His calm demeanor remains his trademark as he coolly strategizes under the pressure cooker of an IPL match, a cauldron unlike any other in the cricket world.

Time and time again a shrewd Dhoni is a step or two ahead and the strength of his lead in this tournament reinforces the prevailing belief that a short T20 format captain is more important than his longer equivalents.

With Dhoni dropping down the rankings to No.8, his famous big hit hasn’t been needed all that often, but he can still hit the ball when needed to ensure his legion of fans’ wish is granted.

(Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)AFP via Getty Images

The focus in the IPL final is expected to be on Dhoni and everyone is likely to be looking for clues as to whether this really is the last time this legendary cricketer will be on the field for a professional game.

But it could be a futile exercise as Dhoni is likely to look almost robotic as he focuses on winning the ultimate prize in India.

If the Super Kings do triumph, perhaps MS Dhoni will allow a crooked grin amidst the chaos.

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I have written about cricket for numerous publications including ESPNcricinfo/The Cricket Monthly and The Guardian. I also cover general sporting events and news for major international media outlets including the Associated Press and Agence France Presse, and am the author of a book on three-on-three basketball. Previously, I was a newspaper journalist specializing mainly in local government, crime and courts.

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