India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni may have signed off from international duties but he'll be at the heart of the action in the Indian Premier League -- a tournament he helped inspire, and where he remains a towering figure, reports AFP.
Dhoni, who has led the Chennai Super Kings to three titles and five runner-up finishes in the IPL's 12 editions, will feature in the opening match on Saturday against the Mumbai Indians, the defending champions.
The game comes more than a year after the 39-year-old last played for India in their semi-final loss to New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup.
After much speculation, the wicketkeeper-batsman finally announced the end of his 16-year international career last month.
And without the pressure of having to play well to keep his place in the national team, the flamboyant Dhoni is expected to shine in UAE, the IPL's temporary home as India battles a rampant coronavirus problem.
Chennai chief executive Kasi Viswanathan says Dhoni remains key to the team's plans and they expect him to keep playing till the 2022 edition.
The team has been under scrutiny after arriving in the UAE last month with two players testing positive for the coronavirus. Senior batsman Suresh Raina and veteran spinner Harbhajan Singh later opted out of the competition. Cricketer-turned-commentator Aakash Chopra said Dhoni is "the biggest strength of the team and the entire franchise is dependent on him".
"Dhoni is going to rule the roost once again as a captain, as a batsman."