Before their comeback in 2018, when CSK spent a truck-load of money on seasoned veterans, they were highly ridiculed with people even claiming that MS Dhoni’s ‘Midas’ touch was done and dusted. Two years down the road, we are still talking about these seasoned veterans, with CSK struggling.
The pieces, the ones that seemingly solved them the 2018 IPL puzzle is now creating all kinds of chaos, criticism and tons of posts on social media. Every single comment, post points towards how the players have become a rather ‘useless’ self of themselves, with them pin-pointing at all the players for their pathetic performance. However, it is crucial to understand that this Chennai Super Kings team was never built on a few superstars, it was built on the idea that one or the other member of the playing XI would put their hands up and perform on the day, that’s exactly what they did in 2018.
Kedar Jadhav and Dwayne Bravo in the same game against Mumbai Indians, Faf du Plessis against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Shane Watson against the same opponent later in the final and a consistent display from both Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni propelled them to a victory. That was CSK in short, a team that was built on the belief of trusting each other’s instincts to build a unit, that thrived on match-ups more than outperforming opponents as a whole.
Six games, two wins and four losses later, Chennai find themselves at the fifth spot on the IPL table but that doesn’t quite paint the entire picture. The two games that they won - it was once again down to brilliant match-ups and tactical plays instead of playing head-to-head. Shardul Thakur came to the fore, with his cross-seamed bowling, Faf-Watson with their partnership and the excellent death bowling from Sam Curran and Dwayne Bravo. Against KKR, they nearly executed the right plan but despite that, a phase from 11 to 15 ultimately cost them two points and momentum that they were building.
CSK’s No.4 confusion
Crucial to CSK’s success in the past two seasons despite having an ageing squad was the management’s ability to successfully integrate everyone into the frame in the batting order. Ambati Rayudu suddenly found himself opening the order alongside Shane Watson, who spent his last two seasons before joining CSK as a middle-order batsman. Suresh Raina continued to be at his best at No.3 and at No.4 came in MS Dhoni, who was capable enough of scoring boundaries at a quick fire rate.
In 2020, CSK are without Raina, their best batsman over the past 12 seasons, and more crucially, without a left-handed batsman in the top five, which makes it extremely difficult for them to counter leg-spinners. Alongside that, Rayudu has been made their No.3 batsmen and incidentally, that has left the management confused about their No.4. On top of that, MS Dhoni’s inability to get off the mark immediately, scoring the big shots has made the entire setup top-order dependent. If the top-order does get them closer to the target with under 7 runs needed per over, there are high chances of a CSK victory, otherwise, it would become highly unlikely.
The best of MS Dhoni
While statistically, it's proven that MS Dhoni’s best comes during the final overs, his struggle against spin is a glory folktale. Everyone knows that the right-hander has had some struggle against spinners in the recent past, with two of his dismissals coming off the spinner against a pacer. From just the statistics, it is clear as daylight that Dhoni struggles in the overs from 11th leading till the 15th.
In the last one year of T20 cricket, the right-hander has just scored 93 runs off 96 deliveries during the phase, which has been neutralised by his power-hitting later in the innings where he strikes it at 162.8. To add to that, CSK’s focal point down the order has lost some of his power, which has made his ‘Midas’ touch a mere touch, a point of concern for the Super Kings in addition to their inability to find the right role for Kedar Jadhav.
It is one place where CSK have perennially had one or the other batsman who have covered up the mess and brought brilliant victories for the franchise, be it Albie Morkel, Dhoni himself or even a Suresh Raina who bats through the innings. This season, they have had finishers in the lineup but have been unable to quite use them in the right situations. For eg, in the game against Rajasthan Royals, the game was quite not done yet when Kedar Jadhav walked out to bat, at 77/4. While the required rate was well above 13, they had lost four wickets which made the chase tricky, which is where Jadhav’s innings set a mini launch-pad where MS Dhoni and Faf du Plessis should have completed the innings.
However, in the game against KKR, sending Jadhav ahead of the likes of Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja cost the game. Not because Jadhav isn’t a good batsman but because he isn’t quick enough to put runs on board. From the over 16th till the 20th, the right-hander only scores runs at a strike-rate of 95, which is less than run-a-ball. Meanwhile, Bravo during the same phase of the innings strikes the ball at 125 while Jadeja strikes it at 144, which was exactly what CSK needed. It isn’t all about Jadhav not performing but rather CSK not pushing out a system where he can look like a batsman.
Additionally, Bravo also strikes at 143.5 while batting at No.7, where Chennai sent in Jadeja. Easily a game that could have won if they had swapped positions for Jadeja-Bravo while not using Kedar Jadhav.
After reducing Sunrisers Hyderabad for 69/4 in 11 overs, an ideal Chennai Super Kings side would bowl them out to a total of under 130 runs or 140 runs at max, according to their bowling performance last year. In the middle overs, CSK while conceding 59.8 runs also picks up 2.42 wickets on an average, which accounts to 24 runs per wicket. However, a major reason for their bowling dominance was the Proteas spinner, Imran Tahir, who is yet to make an appearance for them this season. In the last year across the IPL, the leggie has picked up 26 wickets, at an average of 16.6 while just conceding 6.7 runs an over, striking every 15th delivery.
However, in his absence thus far in the season, MS Dhoni had to resort to two spinners in the form of Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush Chawla. Jadeja since the last season has only picked up 18 wickets, coming at an average of 28.6, which clearly shows he isn’t the keenest eye when it comes to picking wickets. Meanwhile, a straight like-to-like replacement from the Chennai camp was to pick Chawla, who was operating as a wicket-taker previously for KKR. However, he has only picked up 16 wickets, sporadically at an average of 34.4, which is the biggest reason why CSK’s batting failure has been exposed overtly.
While it is easy to rule the three-time IPL winning franchise out of the 2020 IPL playoff race, it is pertinent to realise that this is a franchise which won the 2018 IPL edition and reached the 2019 IPL final with the same squad and same tactics. It might look like they are out of touch, out of colour but the fact is, tactically they have been awfully away from what they usually pull off from the bag but on the field, they are still the same unit.
The unit which backs on stars for outshining the other teams with their performance. It is also crucial to realise that Chennai remains one of the biggest franchises to have been affected by the COVID-19 scene, which has prevented them from more practice time than the other franchises. While they might look struggling, all they need is a push and everything will automatically fall in place. But as it stands now, they are struggling and struggling badly to put two plus two, which is just basics. Once they throw that out of the window, they can start throwing teams out of the ground.