CSK: Are we still the team to beat?

Last Updated: Fri, Apr 20, 2018 16:48 hrs
MS Dhoni

Images: IPL/BCCI

Chennai Super Kings Version 2.0 was unleashed following the IPL auctions in January this year. N. Srinivasan, the de facto owner, a shrewd businessman, made sure the team connected with the passionate fans of the city. And connect did they! (Say what you may about Mr. Srinivasan, he certainly knows to play the right cards). Their brief existence in the city this year resulted in fans thronging every practice session and every warm-up game. As expected, a full house greeted the players for the home opener. IPL returned to Chepauk, all be it, briefly. Despite issues arising out of the Cauvery protests, fans were overwhelmingly behind the men-in-yellow. Images of Dhoni and his men were strung all across. Yellow fever gripped the city. What a smart move it turned out to be. Chennaiites can even be forgiven for forgetting that their football team are the Indian Super League Champions.

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When you saw the team composition, only one word came to mind, Nostalgia! Memories of Captain Cool guiding the team to some heroic finishes, often bringing out the Helicopter in those chases. Suresh Raina playing the able deputy. Murali Vijay with his sensational starts, Faf du Plessis controlling the middle, Dwayne Bravo with his precision death bowling, Ravindra Jadeja thrilling with his athletic fielding and much more. Along with these names, add the likes of Shane Watson, Harbhajan Singh, Kedar Jadhav and Imran Tahir. All of them have been stars in IPL in the past. These 10 players would form a champion IPL team along with the addition of an Indian fast bowler to complete the line-up. The only problem is that we are in the year 2018.

A look beyond the nostalgia revealed a team of expendables. Not for a joke do they say that retirement comes calling when fatherhood hits you, usually in your mid-thirties. Some of these players have retired from International cricket and the others are towards the twilight of their careers. Some have even been left out of the international limited overs set up. Injuries are an issue with an ageing team. In just 3 games played so far, we’ve already lost Jadhav for the entire season. Raina and Dhoni have both suffered injuries, and Vijay, Faf even before the start. Injuries mess up the team selection.

It’s still early days in Season 11, most teams are working on getting their right combinations. Chennai Super Kings are definitely not the worst team in this year’s IPL. Rajasthan Royals are yet to overcome the loss of Steve Smith. Delhi Daredevils do not have the ammunition to fire. Mumbai and Bangalore are unable to consistently bring out the best in their star-studded line-ups. Punjab is not out of the woods yet. There’s a reason why Hyderabad and Kolkata are at the top. Again, it’s still early days.

When Chris Gayle was on the attack we couldn’t do much. He’s reduced to being a one dimensional player, yet our bowlers were just feeding him. We lacked that serious pace. Eventually it was Watson tucking Gayle up with a short-pitched delivery to the ribs, which resulted in him holing out to the short fine leg. We simply didn’t have an answer when Andre Russell opened his shoulders, nor were we able to restrict Mumbai’s young guns in the opening game. India is now home to a stable of fledgling fast bowlers, however, CSK doesn’t seem to have picked any. The two real fast men we have are both imports. Bowling is certainly our weakest link, especially fast bowling. In the 3 matches played so far, we batted second in all games, our batsmen put in some spirited efforts to chase down targets, or at least come close. I wonder how we would be able to arrest the slide, if teams were chasing our targets?

Given the resources we have, we may have to make some tweaks to put forward a championship team. Though Imran Tahir brought us back in the last match, he may have to sit out for now, which would bring Karn Sharma in to play and enable Mark Wood to make the line-up, along with Harbhajan and Bravo. So that’s 4 out of the 11 with 2 overseas slots taken. We still have to figure out which Indian fast bowler would be the best to go with. Deepak Chahar possesses the gift of swing early on, Shardul Thakur comes in handy at the end. Neither have been great and we may even be forced to pick 1 among the 3 uncapped reserves. Between Watson and David Willey, there’s room for just one. Both are capable of opening the batting and bowling fast medium. Watson is a better batsman, while Willey is a better bowler. Depending on which skill is more in need, we may have to choose. I’d say stick with Watson as we need some power hitting at the top. So that’s 6 out of 11 with 3 overseas slots taken. Our bowling and all- rounder categories are full.

Batting has been our strong suit and we have 5 to play with, including 1 overseas slot. Ambati Rayudu has been the most consistent so far and he’s more effective at the top, have him open with Watson. The good news is that Raina would be back, but so far he hasn’t clicked, we need his presence to control the middle overs. Faf and Sam Billings would compete for the No. 4 slot. Billings seems to have the hot hand, stick with him for now. Dhoni is more effective at 5. Though he needs some overs to settle down, finishing is still his forte. Don’t get him in earlier than that. At 6, the Jadeja of old would be an ideal foil, but is he still the same player? It’s certainly a question mark but an even bigger one is whether we have another player to replace him? Twenty-Twenty is more strategic than people may realize and the roles are position specific barring a few floaters.

My Playing XI would read as follows: Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson, Suresh Raina, Sam Billings, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Karn Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Mark Wood and Deepak Chahar. Given the circumstances, this would be the best XI but the positions are far from being set. Raina and Jadeja haven’t clicked yet. Chahar is average at best. Wood hasn’t been great, but the pace he brings is definitely needed, especially in the absence of Lungi Ngidi. Karn is yet to play a game.

The Chennai Super Kings have played with a lot of heart this season. The look on Dhoni’s face says it all. That steely determination, the will to win and he certainly wants to prove a point. Arguably the best captain any team can have, his demeanor has the trickledown effect on his mates, which in turn results in at least one of them stepping up to the plate and playing out of their skins. Bravo and Billings brought us improbable victories, Dhoni himself brought us very close. We could’ve easily been 0-3 by now, instead we are 2-1 and in the process we beat two very good teams in Mumbai and Kolkata. Something that would prove invaluable when we get to the business end of the tournament.

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