His role in guiding them through their playoff did, after all, prompt Virat Kohli to acclaim him as “the greatest finisher ever in the game,” saying his cameo against Delhi Capitals “made me jump out of my seat once again”.
But Dhoni will just be part of the story when Chennai meet two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders at the Dubai International Stadium.
Kolkata love UAE
The IPL first came to these shores for a 20-game chunk of the season in 2014. That campaign culminated in Kolkata winning the title.
They clearly have an affinity with the place. When the league ceased in India because of Covid midway through this season, they were second last in the table, and all out of sync.
Since it resumed in UAE, though, they have won seven games out of nine, and are in fine form heading into the final.
Sure they will be meeting one of the most formidable sides in IPL history when they get there. But Kolkata have yet to lose a final, plus they have an irrepressible new find.
Venkatesh Iyer: remember the name
No one personifies Kolkata’s uptick in form in UAE quite as starkly as Venkatesh Iyer.
The left-handed opener did not play a game in the India phase of this season. Since getting to the Emirates he has been rampant, scoring three half-centuries – one each in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.
He was the only player on either side to look comfortable with the conditions in Sharjah during the final qualifier, when his 55 set the platform for the win over Delhi Capitals.
“We have found a player in Venkatesh Iyer,” David Hussey, Kolkata’s assistant coach, said.
“Not only is he a classy player but he is a wonderful person and a wonderful team man as well.”
Still the next big thing
Iyer’s emergence has slightly overshadowed the consistent excellence of his opening partner Shubman Gill.
But the 22-year-old opener has been just as reliable. He has made four scores worth 46 or better since the teams decamped to UAE.
“Everyone knows he is going to be a 10-year veteran of Test, one-day and T20 cricket for India,” Hussey said of Gill.
“It is just about how he gets there and how quickly he gets there. What he does is give the whole batting group a lot of confidence the way he goes out there.
“Seeing him strike the first ball [of the final qualifier against Delhi on Wednesday night] to the cover boundary soothed a few nerves in the dressing room and dug out.
“I for one am looking forward to seeing him grow as a person and a cricketer.”
Chennai rebuild was rapid
It is no surprise Chennai feel at home in Dubai, either. It is, after all, a city where monumental buildings are constructed in rapid time.
This time last season, Chennai were contemplating the end of a dynasty, having been the most consistent side in IPL history.
Stephen Fleming, the coach, spoke hopefully about being part of a rebuild, and warned it could take a while to construct a new side.
Take a while? Make that one season. And that, too, a season that was not hamstrung before it started by a raft of Covid cases in camp, the departure of a pillar of the side, and the delayed recovery of a young star - unlike in 2020.
Ruturaj Gaikwad’s first campaign in UAE was harpooned by Covid. He struggled to recover, and looked entirely out of sorts when he did get on to the field at the end of the 2020 season.
What a difference a season makes. Back here this time, he has been a class apart.
His haul of 603 runs is just the third time a Chennai player has exceeded 600 in a season, and 24 more in the final would earn him the orange cap for the leading run-scorer of 2021.
And despite his elegance, he is also the possessor of the longest six of the season – a mammoth 108 metre effort.
Will all the success go to his head? Not likely. “I try to stay neutral,” Gaikwad said after taking the match award in the first qualifier. “I want to stay humble.”