The Chennai Super Kings have roared back after a disappointing 2020 but with more than half of the season remaining, can Dhoni and Co. go all the way and win that fourth title?
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Let’s talk about a team who have been a part of folklore, a part of legend.
Does any other team evoke more emotion than the Yellow Army?
Here’s also a side that had never known heartbreak before last season. The Chennai Super Kings finished the 2020 IPL campaign second from bottom as they missed out on making it to the playoffs for the first time in the history of the Indian Premier League. And the joy and relief from opposition supporters for their downfall showed where the Super Kings stood.
They are the epitome of consistency, having finished in the Playoff spots ever since its inception in 2008, and since 2018, when they came back from their two-year ban, the Super Kings have continued to prove their doubters wrong. They won the 2018 title against all odds and agonisingly missed out on the 2019 title by 1 run. But a pandemic-hit season resulted in the tournament getting shifted to the UAE and last-minute pullouts by key players like Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh meant the Super Kings struggled throughout the 2020 campaign for balance and stability.
This year, though, they’ve brought in Moeen Ali and Krishnappa Gowtham for hefty fees to bolster their spin-bowling ranks; since last season, one of the main reasons for their downfall was the monotonic nature of their spin attack. Karn Sharma and Piyush Chawla both were leggies and Ravindra Jadeja was the other spin option, but the addition of Moeen and Gowtham has added more dimensions to their bowling attack.
MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ambati Rayudu, C Hari Nishanth, Cheteshwar Pujara, Deepak Chahar, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Harisankar Reddy, Imran Tahir, Josh Hazlewood, K Bhagath Varma, K Gowtham, Karn Sharma, KM Asif, Lungi Ngidi, Mitchell Santner, Moeen Ali, Narayan Jagadeesan, R Sai Kishore, Ravindra Jadeja, Robin Uthappa, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Sam Curran, Shardul Thakur, Suresh Raina.
With all these things to look forward to, let’s take a look at the SWOT Analysis for the Chennai Super Kings.
The Chennai Super Kings have the most well-rounded squad, in my opinion. Missing Suresh Raina and then Ambati Rayudu midway through last season really offset the balance of their batting lineup, something they couldn’t figure out till the last three games of that campaign.
While many didn’t pay much attention to it, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Stephen Fleming found something in those dead-rubber encounters which they embraced as their blueprint for the 2021 season and just added the missing pieces to the former’s jigsaw puzzle. They fought hard for an off-spinning, batting all-rounder and went big, bidding as high as INR 14 crore for Glenn Maxwell, but the Royal Challengers Bangalore snatched him and CSK got hold of their second target in Moeen Ali. The Englishman is a murderer of the cricket ball when on-song and can chip in with a couple of overs when required.
With Suresh Raina back into the fold and Ravindra Jadeja their new finisher, CSK now have four right-handers and three left-handers in their top seven.
This is Dhoni’s mantra of throwing chaos into the mix. Every batter from numbers 3 to 7 is a floater. One game Moeen Ali might come in as the no. 3, the other game Ambati Rayudu, and that in turn gives license to the top order to assess the situation and push on from there.
And the results are there for all to see. The Super Kings have dominated the first leg and their +1.2 Net Run Rate (NRR) gives a good account of that.
Unlike previous seasons, we have the mega-auctions next year, and this might be the swansong for this particular group before the management disintegrates and restructures the squad from scratch. While many would still suggest their age being an issue, with the way they dominated the first half, another possible nine games won’t be too much for this group to handle.
From their first seven games, there isn’t any visible weakness in this Chennai side; this is as good as it can get. Their top order is firing, the middle order is making explosive contributions, and their bowling attack has performed beyond expectations on the not-so-friendly Wankhede pitches. And the pitches during the first two weeks will likely play out similar to that of Wankhede’s while drier pitches in the back end will only aid their spinners.
Ravindra Jadeja and Shardul Thakur have missed out on much of India’s white-ball leg either due to injuries or the BCCI’s new rotation policy, and the duo have been in fine form ahead of the second leg in the UAE. Jadeja has 132 runs at an explosive strike rate of 161.72 and has taken six wickets at an economy of 6.70 in pacer-friendly pitches. Shardul, on the other hand, had a poor first half as he could only manage five wickets from seven games at an economy of 10.13. Although he did always bowl the difficult overs, his execution and accuracy weren’t there. That said, his latest performances against England should be a good indicator of things to come from the bowling all-rounder.
Like last season, COVID scares, injuries to key personnel, or a large section of the squad having a dry spell are the obvious threats. But as Dhoni likes to emphasise before every tournament, if you are getting the basics right and following the process, then more often than not, results will come.
The Chennai Super Kings were the first team to hit the training ground for the second leg of the season; they began their camp quite early in August and by the time the season resumes, most of the players will be in their optimal conditions. Everything points to a fourth title.
And the sign of a great leader? Dhoni has done the bulk of the work without having to do much of the work visibly. He’s the puppet master pulling the string behind the stumps. Can he weave his magic one last time and make this a fairytale ending to a beautiful chapter in the history of Indian Cricket?