There is a meme going around in Internet - that Seven IPL teams play in the IPL to face Chennai Super Kings in the final. How much of that true is not left to interpretation at all as it was the case proven time and time again and to validate it, CSK reached yet another final this season.
January 18, 2018, was the judgement day for Chennai Super Kings. They had already retained MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, and Ravindra Jadeja - all were a pale shadow of their former illustrious selves - and that was the day Chennai needed to accumulate a strong team around the triumvirate for what was the most important season for them. However, CSK went for a formula very few would’ve imagined and they debunked all the popular opinions to form a team that was later called on Twitter as “Dad’s Army”.
Now, two seasons down the line, mouths are shut, the experience took over and eventually, the team that didn’t blink first came out as the better team in the competition. Notwithstanding, what had happened in the final against Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings will become a case study for many analysts banking on match-ups, and focusing on making the team around a young core.
CSK rely on a core group of players around whom others have been allowed to express themselves and make an impact. MS Dhoni’s decision to hold Suresh Raina at No. 3 and often bringing Ambati Rayudu to No.4, 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.
First and foremost - MS Dhoni. It is often cited in jest that when you have MS Dhoni, you have already won half the battle. The CSK skipper’s game-reading ability coupled with his inventiveness behind the stumps ensured that Chennai Super Kings bowlers had one major plus point that other teams rarely have - the insurance of experimenting and being told what exactly needs to be done. Even for their batsmen, the insurance of trying and staying in the game and hold back for a final assault, which is the ultimate Dhoni-ism shimmering beneath it, has stayed clear of other chasing packs. It was a clear case of master guiding his team with every step and ensuring nobody lags behind.
With the bat too, the former Indian skipper reinvented himself, or rather carried the momentum that he had generated in the Australia series, and struck 245 runs in the death overs at a strike rate of 185. That gave CSK top-order the insurance of being slow and though that hurt them in a few games, but hey, they won more matches too. Apart from that, with Dhoni being out there, the opposition was more under pressure, even in the direst of situations as Umesh Yadav and Jaydev Unadkat found out when they bowled their respective last overs against CSK at their own home venues.
Their spinners, though, have been the biggest success story for CSK, and it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that they were the major string-puller in taking the team to the final. The 60 wickets the Super Kings spinners picked up are the most by spinners in a single IPL season and this tells a story. Imran Tahir picked 26 wickets to be the purple cap holder, making him only the 2nd spinner in the history of IPL to earn the coveted prize. More than that, his regular strikes made him Dhoni’s go-to man when he needed a wicket and by also restricting the run-flow, the South African single-handedly won CSK many games. Harbhajan Singh was also not far behind as he had 24 wickets to his name, but most importantly, he was the most economical bowler in the team.
Deepak Chahar showed the other side of his prowess and he moved away from being just the powerplay over to a class death over, even though he had to bowl only one over between 16 and 20. After Lungi Ngidi's injury and the unavailability of David Willey, Chahar didn’t let Chennai feel that they had lost two fine new-ball operators and took the onus on his shoulder to help Chennai great deal.
Last but most importantly, the way they used their home ground gave other teams a blueprint to follow. Since the IPL’s inception, the bar at Chepauk has been ridiculously high and the measure of CSK's success has been their ability to meet it, then outjump it. They did in a brilliant fashion this year, and of eight matches they have played at this venue, CSK secured victories in six games, losing twice to the eventual champions Mumbai Indians. This in a way acted as the fundamental source of gaining points up front and the scheduling helped him in a great deal.
Chennai’s middle-order was too bland to be trusted upon this season and unlike last season where at least one player rose upto the occasion, this season saw the players firing in unison very rarely. Although it is true that CSK operate in a dictum of slow-starting, Faf du Plessis and Shane Watson batted in an extremely slow fashion in the powerplay, and that came back to bite them as CSK as their middle-order, barring MS Dhoni, was out of the form.
Suresh Raina hit three half-centuries but he was hot and cold and when that was coupled with Ambati Rayudu’s terrible run of form, it became a big disaster. Rayudu could only manage to score 282 runs at 23.50, but the major talking point was his 93.06 strike rate . The lack of support from the middle-order, combined with Kedar Jadhav’s non-show would be the prime discussion once MS Dhoni returns from the World Cup and sit with Stephen Fleming as CSK will try to rebuild the team from scratch.
Fielding, of course, was another factor that let Chennai down. Sure enough, Faf du Plessis and Dhurv Shorey grabbed some difficult catches to have them in the “best catch category”, but as a whole, Chennai Super Kings were a group of butterfingers. Neither did they have any sort of consensus regarding their out-fielding nor did they try hard for it. As MS Dhoni proclaimed, over and over again, that they could never be quick on the field, and they want to make up for that by being agile with their batting, but the fact is a little more effort would’ve given them lesser runs to chase or more chance to defend.
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