It's the third delivery of the 19th over.
MS Dhoni skips down the track and looks to push an Adam Zampa delivery away, but gets an inside edge to short fine leg. He sets off for a non-existent run, Kedar Jadhav isn’t interested. He sends Dhoni back. However, it's the agony, anxiety and pained calls of "No... No... No," from the stands that would have rung louder in Dhoni's ears than Jadhav’s call. The wicket-keeper batsman gets back safely and there is relief all around.
Three overs later, Dhoni pats a Marcus Stoinis ball into the covers and sets off again. It's a fairly big headstart — one from which it appears almost impossible to return. He finds himself nearly halfway down the track when Jadhav again sends him back. By now, hundreds of hands are on heads. A thousand cries of "No!" reverberate inside the MA Chidambaram Stadium, coupled with despairing screams of "Get back!". There is a collective intake of breath. Fans are out of their seats as if trying to form an invisible force field that keeps Dhoni from running himself out.
Hilton Cartwright rushes in and has ages to make a direct hit… but misses. Dhoni somehow gets back. By now the minds inside the stadium have gone blank. A couple of minutes later, realisation strikes. Then they burst into sudden bizarre applause, one of disbelief and relief. They were all very involved.
The fans had waited with baited breath for two years to watch their hero perform in front of their eyes, and had Cartwright scored a direct hit, they probably wouldn't have forgiven Jadhav for a lifetime. This is what Dhoni means to the fans. This is what he means to the Chennai.
The last time Dhoni played in Chennai was two years ago, in 2015, against South Africa. Since then, the people of Chennai have craved even a single glimpse of Dhoni, especially after being bereft of their beloved Chennai Super Kings. That craving was palpable at the Chepauk on Sunday. A sea of blue t-shirts with Dhoni emblazoned across the back had descended on the stadium. Faces were inscribed with 'MSD' via water colour. Posters were brought in. They had come here for Dhoni, just for Dhoni.
"We are trying all our sources to get the tickets. Dhoni is back in Chennai so there is tremendous excitement," Dr Vignesh, an avid Dhoni and CSK fan had told Firstpost a day before the match as he toiled hard to get a ticket. The GST-inflated ticket rates didn't appear to stop the Chennai faithful. Subash Kannan, a local graphic designer bought a Rs-4,800 ticket that was way out of his budget, after a failed attempt at buying the cheaper ones. However there were no second thoughts when it came to Dhoni.
"Money doesn't matter when it comes to watching him; these are lifetime memories," Subash beamed with pride.
There were plenty of ticketless folks outside the stadium on match day in the hope of a miraculous entry. After every Indian wicket, the Chepauk was gripped with excitement in anticipation that the new batsman walking out would be Dhoni. The moment finally arrived in the last ball of the 16th over. Rohit Sharma top-edged one to deep square leg. Soon the Chants of "Dhoni! Dhoni!" and "CSK! CSK!" echoed inside the stadium even as the umpires waited to check for a no ball.
The chants turned into a deafening roar as Dhoni strode out on the field.
— BCCI (@BCCI) September 17, 2017
"I had my phone ready and started recording him walk out to bat. I will watch it again and again; it's a memory I will always savour," said Subash, his voice full of emotion.
Dhoni strode out with India struggling at 64/4 in the 16th over. He thrives in such situations. It's almost as if his job description always demands him to be there in troubled times. He weathered the storm rather nervously early in his innings. He then brought the much-needed calm to build a big partnership with Hardik Pandya, guiding him all the way through. And then, he went berserk. It was a typical Dhoni innings. When most around him suffered brain fades, Dhoni was a study in patience.
Dhoni’s first boundary arrived off the 67th ball he faced. From 40 off 65 balls he went to 79 off 88, scoring 39 off 23. It was a Dhoni blueprint for a perfectly-paced innings. In the process, the former India captain brought up his 66th ODI fifty. It was also his 100th international half-century. Dhoni loves Chepauk. He has scored the most runs by any player at the venue in ODIs — 401 runs from six matches at an average of 100.25. It was at this ground that he scored his maiden Test double hundred.
It was all unfolding in front of thousands of hopefuls who had turned up in anticipation of a Dhoni special. Five years ago, Dhoni had pulled India out of the doom and gloom of 29/5 to score a century (113) against Pakistan and give the team total some respectability. India ended up losing the match but Dhoni's mettle stood out. Fast-forward to 2017, nothing has changed, except for the result.
"He (Dhoni) rebuilt a broken building. This is the one memory I will take back from this match," says Subash.
They call him the 'Thala' of Chennai. Every little move by the 'leader' drew cheers. Even in the 47th over when he changed his bat, there were whistles and claps. The lightning-fast stumpings were applauded with the usual chants.
There was a sense of satisfaction as the fans left the ground and renewed hopes of getting a glimpse of their hero very soon, with CSK set to return in the 2018 edition of the IPL. On a soggy Sunday evening at the Chepauk, Chennai showered love on Dhoni and the beloved son, as always, didn't disappoint.