(Photo Credits: whatsthehype.in)
Ever since the advent of the IPL, the Chennai Super Kings side has by far been the most popular one. And it wouldn’t been an exaggeration to say that even for an opponent team’s fan, chances are that his or her second favourite side would be CSK.
This massive fan following combined with the team’s dominating performances on the field – and Captain Dhoni’s charisma – heralded something that had rarely been seen on Indian soil before.
Sports buffs from India had previously grown up watching various popular leagues the world over, prominent among them being the English Premier League. The dominant sides from these leagues captured the imagination of the Indian public, resulting in a loyal fan base for the clubs, massive merchandise sales and popularization of slogans.
So when the journey of IPL began, it resulted in a scenario where the Indian public got a chance to fanatically support clubs and domestic sides- much like how they did with EPL teams – and they latched onto the opportunity in earnest. The phenomena of franchisee loyalty went from strength to strength in the IPL, and the CSK side was a major contributor towards that growth thanks to its immense popularity and fan connect.
From the nascent stages of the tournament, the team played an entertaining brand of cricket and dominated the competition like no other side, kick-starting an era of unbridled and fanatical club support – the ‘Whistle Podu’ era.
Successive title triumphs in the 2010 and 2011 editions of the IPL tournament, combined with the Champions League win in 2010 propelled the side to pre-eminent status early on.
Inevitably though, like in the case of most things sport, there was a lull following the storming start that the team made. From 2012 to 2015, though CSK reached the playoffs every season, they couldn’t go on and win the IPL title.
2012 and 2013, in particular, were marked with painful defeats in the finals of the tournament.
And just before the finals of the 2013 edition, the spot fixing scandal broke out, and it had a huge impact on the team. The events which followed the break out of the scandal dealt to severe blow to the image of the side. The 2014 Champions League triumph notwithstanding, CSK was seen as a side on the decline – with an asterisk hanging over their initial IPL sucess – as other sides like Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders started dominating the scene in the cash-rich league.
And then in July 2015, as a fallout of the spot fixing scandal, the CSK franchise was suspended for a period of two years from the IPL.
There was an outpouring of emotions from the fans following the suspension as they even organized a ‘Save CSK’ campaign outside the Chepauk Stadium. And even though their efforts in getting the ban revoked didn’t bear fruit, it still underlined the fanatical fan following that the team enjoyed.
True to nature, in the intervening two years – even when the team remained suspended from the IPL – its loyal fan base remained intact. And once the two year suspension period was over, there was great anticipation to see the team back in action.
But before the on-field action could resume, there was the matter of the player auction. CSK bought players who were predominantly old and misgivings about how competitive such a side can be crept in even amidst a doting fanbase. But once the competition began, it dawned upon everyone how wrong it was to write off an MS Dhoni led CSK Side. All the so called older players came to the party big time, with the Captain Dhoni himself leading the way with some sparkling performances.
The season prior to their suspension, the Chennai Super Kings side had looked jaded and were thumped comprehensively in the finals by a strong Mumbai Indians outfit.
Fast forward to the 2018 edition though and CSK once again harnessed that enterprising brand of cricket that had earned them such a fanatical fanbase, and fittingly, the campaign culminated in a fairytale title triumph. It was moment to savour for the players, the management and especially the fans, who had waited patiently for two long years during the team’s absence.
But even amidst all the euphoria, there was a steep sense of disappointment that the home games had to be moved away from Chennai for the bulk of the tournament due to political reasons. The management may have rose to the occasion by arranging a special train for the fans to travel to Pune for the home games, but for those who looked forward to watching the Lion roar in the Chepauk den, the situation was a still a letdown.
So as the 2019 season begins today, CSK as the defending champions take on RCB in the inaugural game at Chepauk. The comeback – in more senses than one – couldn’t have been scripted better than this; the side returning to action in Chepauk as defending champions.
The last time they played the inaugural game in the tournament as defending champions was back in 2012, and CSK were at the peak of their powers then as a side. A lot has happened in the intervening years. As the team returns to Chepauk today, it marks the completion of a cycle; a cycle where they rose to the top, then slipped, fell and have risen back again now.
And this rise also marks start of a new cycle.
We don’t know how successful this new cycle will be for the side as a transition is looming with several regular players tipped to walk into the sunset soon – including Dhoni.
But one thing is for certain. Irrespective of the cricketing fortunes on the pitch, the massive fan base of the side is once again gleaming with pride and excitement, emphatically marking the return of the ‘Whistle Podu’ era in all its glory.
The Lion roars once again at the Chepauk!