Do CSK have the best chance of finishing at the top of the table?
There are certain relations that are almost inevitable and unbreakable in the world. CSK and their quest for IPL success is undoubtedly one of them. A team that is led by the mercurial Mahendra Singh Dhoni, CSK have been synonymous with the blitzkrieg that is IPL. The team attracts fans from all over the country towards them; such is the popularity that they have garnered all through the years. No statistic ever can justify their immense success, as it is a franchise that has been built as much as by the fans as by the money that has been invested in it.
There are many factors that combine together to sum up their success in the league, and one of them is the stability and consistency that they have maintained in the squad over the years. CSK fans have accepted Dhoni; a total outsider to the state as one of their own.
The same can be said about Suresh Raina as well as Ravindra Jadeja, both players who have been recognized with their association with the franchise over the years. However, when the club was suspended for alleged malpractice two years ago, many thought that the relationship between them and the fans would be stained.
All of this false conjecture was put into place when the team returned to play at the Chepauk after a long exile, the fans welcomed them in the best of ways. Even though they might be unable to play their rest of the home matches at their actual ‘home’, CSK are expected to enthral the fans with another convincing performance this season.
A playoff qualification has always been the primary objective for them, and the team has always achieved that. Here, we analyze whether the club has what it takes to finish at the top of the table at the end of the group stages.
CSK’s Squad: An excellent bid to win the title
When they went into the auction, it was quite evident that CSK had a clear plan in the mind. They had already retained the core of the team sans R Ashwin; now, they wanted to mix up them with an experienced group of players so that the club could form a team that will have players having already played many such competitive matches in the past. It is evident that the owners know for a fact that MS Dhoni would not be around for long.
It might be the final two-three years in the IPL for the veteran and they are trying their best to win the title now rather than experimenting with the youth. In the past, CSK always blended youthful exuberance with loads of experience in the playing XI. This time though, they have bolstered the squad with players who have already tasted IPL success and those who know what it takes to get past the tricky situations with ease.
This makes it easier for the captain to manage the squad, as most of the players already know what is required of them. It won’t be incorrect to say that CSK adopted the safest strategy amongst all the other teams. Safest, but well, it is the most productive one too. CSK have focused on experience in the batting department, and there are some valid reasons for that too.
MS Dhoni has always been a captain who likes to bowl first in IPL matches. Dhoni and Raina form the fulcrum of the batting unit, and both of them have been excellent chasers in the limited overs format. Moreover, the entire team likes to have a set target in front of them that gives them a better picture of how to structure their innings.
Apparently, CSK opted to use their RTM card on Faf du Plessis and accordingly strengthened their top-order. Faf isn’t a natural T20 player, but he sure does add stability to the batting order. He often plays in the anchor role and is expected to carry the team forward with his calm head and the ability to negate the new ball in the first six overs. The South African can wreck havoc once he settles completely on the field, and is a dangerous player in the final stages of the innings too.
In addition to him, CSK surprisingly bid for Ambati Rayudu too. Rayudu has been a veteran in the domestic circuit and was a vital cog in Mumbai Indians’ team ahead of this season. He possesses a wide range of talents, as his tendency to adapt according to the given situation makes him a valuable addition to the team. Rayudu can be used as a floater, a role that Subramaniam Badrinath used to play in before.
This means that Rayudu will keep on changing batting positions according to the demand of the game. He has opened the innings in the first two matches, but can move down the order once Du Plessis becomes available for selection.
Again, he has been around since the 2010 IPL season and even played in the now-extinct ICL before that. For Mumbai Indians, Rayudu has played in pressure situations many a time and knows how to handle the nerves while chasing a target. However, more interestingly, CSK have an excellent crop of all-round players in their squad. If you look at the playing XI from the last match, Shane Watson, Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo are three players who can bat in the top seven and guarantee four overs of bowling too.
A lot of all-rounders and unpredictability factor
Damn, that’s some great balance to have in the squad. Nowadays, it is a norm in T20 cricket to have at least six specialist bowlers in the playing XI. Due to the nature of the game, any bowler is prone to have a bad day and hence the captain should have the cushion of having one extra bowler in the lineup. CSK have three of them, in addition to the four frontline bowlers. In total, if you look, the team has eight bowlers who could be trusted to bowl the whole quota of overs as Suresh Raina is seen as an all-rounder too.
Watson and Raina usually play in the top-three, and almost no other IPL team could boast of having two all-round players amongst their opening three batsmen. This season, Jadeja and Bravo have been handed more batting responsibilities, and the duo has been successful in finishing off two crisp, crucial run chases.
Well, it was only a matter of time before Jadeja was given the opportunity to bat in the top-six as the southpaw adds a completely new dimension to the lineup. The fact that he is a left-hander and usually bats in the final few overs makes it difficult for the opposition bowlers to adjust the line of their deliveries due to the left-right batting combination.
CSK brought in the unpredictability factor by roping in Sam Billings. The lad is a sensation with the bat and has a vast array of shots up his sleeves. Billings quite literally toys with the bowlers with his unique range of shots and his presence in the middle order unsettles the opposition in the middle overs as that is the time of the innings when the opposition tries to hold a firm grip on the game by trying to bowl a couple of quick, economical overs.
Now, CSK played another trick by beefing up their spin department by luring in Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh and Karn Sharma. Tahir and Bhajji possess loads of experience and that again indicates CSK’s entire idea behind the squad.
Bhajji was brought in as a replacement for R Ashwin; albeit a cheaper alternative. Dhoni has used Harbhajan well in the past and showed us what to expect in the last game against KKR. Sunil Narine likes to open the innings on fire, but Bhajji cramped the southpaw for room and Narine eventually lost patience and accordingly lost his wicket to the veteran spinner.
Tahir has always been an exceptional wicket-taker, whilst Karn Sharma will apparently be used in some part of this season owing to his good performances in IPL in the past. They have an excellent depth in the spin department too, and it won’t be a surprise if the management consciously planned this as CSK will play most of their matches on the relatively slower pitches of Chepauk and now in the MCA International Stadium in Pune. The only aspect where CSK opted for a complete youth setup rather than experienced players is the fast bowling department.
Young and fresh pacers
IPL teams have to play 14 matches within one and a half months and hence the fast bowlers are prone to injuries at some point of the season. Keeping this in mind, the Stephen Fleming–coached side opted for youngsters like Shardul Thakur, Mark Wood, Deepak Chahar, and Lungi Ngidi instead of more experienced counterparts. CSK have always played Indian fast bowlers usually; a major example of this is in 2015 when they played an all-Indian bowling lineup for the most part of the season.
Moreover, Thakur was a part of RPS last season, and actually, Dhoni must have been impressed with his death-over exploits. Thakur has developed some brilliant variations which include the knuckleball too. Chahar can swing the ball in both ways and trouble the batsmen in the opening overs. Then, Wood and Ngidi are bowlers who tend to hit the deck hard and that gives the team an advantage in both dry as well as fast pitches.
CSK wins and Dhoni factor
Moreover, the presence of MS Dhoni gives the team an upper hand in the league. Hardly would you find a cricketing brain as canny and astute as that of the former Indian captain. He has led the club in six IPL finals and knows what it requires to take the team beyond the finishing line. Despite his obvious waning finishing powers, bet on the man to come out on top when the stakes are high; and you know as well that Dhoni hardly disappoints.
If we go through the last two matches too, CSK have shown that experience always helps a team to come up winning in crunch situations. Let us take the game against KKR for instance; Shane Watson, whose batting credibility has been underused in recent seasons, gave the team a quick start as he scored 42 runs in 19 balls and took up the complete advantage of the field restrictions. An equally productive Ambati Rayudu, who manoeuvred the field by taking sharp singles, whilst occasionally hitting a couple of boundaries too, supported him.
Though MS Dhoni fluttered a bit, Bravo and Jadeja made up for it by playing crucial cameos in the final couple of overs. Now, this is what I mentioned in the earlier part of this piece. Watson, Bravo and Jadeja played the most impactful innings’ of the match and the trio had bowled a combined nine overs and took three wickets too. Though Bravo was hit all over the ground due to Russell’s slaughtering knock, it won’t be the case in every game and hence these three players will continue to contribute in all aspects of the game.
Sam Billings brought in the unpredictability aspect and played a belter of an innings by scoring 56 runs of mere 23 deliveries. Despite the slow innings’ of Raina and Dhoni, who are incidentally the best players in the team for run chases, CSK managed to achieve the steep target in front of a decent bowling lineup. In the first game against Mumbai Indians, Bravo played probably the best T20 innings of his career to take the team over the line.
While the main batsmen were a bit inconsistent, it was again one of CSK’s all-round players who helped the team in a successful run chase. Run chases are a test of character, patience and resilience, and the stalwarts in CSK’s lineup possess these qualities in abundance.
Take the most recent KXIP game for example; CSK lost the game by four runs, but MS Dhoni was extremely instrumental in taking the team to the dying stages. At one point, the team required more than 15 runs per over and absolutely no one even gave them a chance to take the game close to the finishing line. However, MS Dhoni persisted in the run-chase and despite carrying a back injury; he showed enough intent to take the game until the last ball of the match.
A lot of composure through experience
Well, I am focusing on the experience factor a lot because the difference could be seen in both the matches that were played on Sunday. Washington Sundar, despite having played a good cameo, failed to turn up and maintain the composure in the final two overs. Eventually, RCB needed 36 runs from the final over and the game was ultimately finished for them. Dhoni on the other hand, chose the bowlers he would attack and eventually transferred all the pressure on Mohit Sharma.
Sure, Sharma bowled an excellent final over but it is understandable that CSK would not win every run-chase. However, the mere fact that they took it so close was owing to the steel-minded character and experience of MS Dhoni; something that young finishers like Sundar do not have at their age. It is almost given that CSK will be caught in these situations numerous times due to their tendency to bowl first, and more often than not, one should expect them to successfully chase down the target.
Yesterday’s match was a rare incident when Dhoni failed to finish off a game successfully whilst staying not out. However, this might also be due to his back injury that restricted him from rotating the strike more often. From an overall perspective, CSK have taken the game away from crunch, difficult situations and a major reason has been the presence of players who have been around for quite a while. For a squad that was term as that of ‘oldies’ before the tournament began, CSK have shut everyone up with some trademark, thrilling performances.
Of course, the game at Mohali was an exception, but one can simply not ignore Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s valiant effort that also resulted in his highest ever IPL score. CSK have smartly decided to play to their strengths and it should be noted that Faf de Plessis hasn’t played a single game yet, while Raina is out for a couple of matches due to a calf injury. Once these two make a comeback, there will be better stability in the batting lineup as Faf’s tendency to give rock solid starts will be required as the season progresses.
Moreover, despite being a team of relatively older players, everyone looks quite fit enough to play the majority of the games in the group stage. We have seen how CSK used the experience in their squad in their first three games, and we might see more of that as the season progresses. Due to the above stated factors, it can be opined that CSK might end up being the most successful team in the group stages and would succeed in the playoffs too.
Picture credit: BCCI
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