IPL 2019 | Can an “ageing” Chennai Super Kings disprove popular myth once again

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IPL 2019 | Can an “ageing” Chennai Super Kings disprove popular myth once again

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Bastab K Parida


CSK’s return to the IPL after a gap of two years was branded as a “season of nostalgia” as to bring their core back, they bought most players of age over 30. Whether it was a coincidence that they went on to win the title can’t be said with any certainty but they disproved the popular myth.

Data Analytics plays a huge role in the squad formation of any league T20 team. Ask Kolkata Knight Riders or Perth Scorchers, and they will tell you, how they used the Moneyball concept to get ahead of many in their respective leagues - Indian Premier League and Big Bash League. Mumbai Indians, with a strong Reliance machinery running behind them, gave a new meaning to the talent scouting and established a unit of former players to find raw talents each and every year. Chennai Super Kings, however, run by their instinct.

It is not that they don’t care about the analysis. They, of course, do, but not with the propensity of KKR or an MI depend on it to run their system. When KKR sent Sunil Narine up top to open the innings with Chris Lynn, after doing sufficient analysis during the previous season of the Big Bash League, last year CSK changed their order and sent Harbhajan Singh and Deepak Chahar ahead of MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, and Dwayne Bravo to give a solid check to Kings XI Punjab in the middle-overs.

The duo of MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming have also had a big role to play. There is no doubt that the pair has a superb T20 game awareness and instead of number analysis, they believe in “sending the game to deep end” because "If you are finding it tough, chances are others will too." He asks his teammates to have patience and then use all their experience garnered over the years to transfer the pressure to take the team down the line. It was a plan backed by proof as CSK have often delivered in crunch situations by just playing to the opposition’s head.

In a league match against Kings XI Punjab last year, Dhoni was on 23 off 22 and the team had almost no chance to go near the target, but the skipper started his assault to take the team close to a memorable victory with his 79 off 44 balls. In the qualifier against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Dhoni was under fire, taking nine balls to score his first run and slowly and steadily moved to 9 off 18 balls. With the bottom-handed shots not coming to the fore easily, he let Faf du Plessis to just play out Rashid Khan. Once the spinner was out of the attack, du Plessis played out gamely to hand CSK another joyous victory. Shane Watson took 11 balls to score his first run in the IPL final, when the ghost of RCB-SRH final was out to haunt CSK, but the faith repaid when the Aussie scored a century in the game to help the team secure their third Championship title. 

Now the question arises that how can you challenge the structure that has already been tried and tested, with a success rate that is rare and ridiculous in franchise cricket? CSK rely on a core group of players around whom others have been allowed to express themselves and make an impact. Dhoni’s decision to promote Rayudu to the top and often bringing Raina to little down from his initial position, allowed him to take over the middle-order role with elan. Age, as they have proven, it is not a barrier if you know how to release the pressure, and most importantly, how to turn it to your own benefit.

The year 2019 is no different. CSK retained almost the entire team and apart from filling a couple of spots with domestic Indian cricketers, rest assured, the team will field the XI almost similar to the last year. It brings the question, can CSK rely on the same proven formula once again and deliver as they had always done?

One of the major problems for the Chennai-based franchise has been their batsmen start slow, which, in the modern-day T20 ecosystem, is a huge anomaly. CSK send Faf du Plessis and Shane Watson to open the innings, and it is not even a surprise that both are slow starters. It doesn’t help if you have an out-of-form-but-can-gain-form-in-IPL Suresh Raina, and a proven slow starter MS Dhoni to follow in the batting order. Lest the top-order fails to deliver, which more often than not wasn’t the case last year, can Dhoni actually make a difference? In his T20 career, Dhoni strikes at 76 in the first ten balls and moves it up to only 98 after facing ten balls. 

This seems to be a concern for the franchise once the tournament gets underway. CSK are filled with players who are extremely injury prone and if you take the flailing consistency into account, then it will be difficult for the CSK to use the last year’s formula to be successful. Of course, they will be back at their favourite Chepauk once again, but as was the case last year, they wouldn’t start as the favourites. However, one can’t bet against it because like many things with CSK, they are always capable of pulling off a miracle and discovering a hero in every match. 

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