Back in IPL 2020, when the venues were in the Middle East, the question that surrounded the Chennai Super Kings was, 'Can they adjust themselves to the changing conditions?'. As it turned out, they couldn’t quite live up to their expectations but the 2020 season was very crucial to them.
In fact, the 2020 IPL season is the reason why Chennai Super Kings stand at the top of the table in 2021, after two weeks of Indian Premier League action, back to a familiar place in the table. But what has turned their fortune around? What has liberated them from being dead-to-the-grave from finishing seventh on the table to get back to leading the pack of wolves?
A 32-year-young Ravindra Jadeja, who has, in fact, put his best foot forward to help the Super Kings, after a trophy-laden year in the cash-rich league. In fact, from last season, CSK have just had two changes - the inclusion of Moeen Ali and the return of Suresh Raina. While Moeen Ali has made No.3, his own, Raina’s return, scratchy at times and frantic at the others, has allowed the lower-order to stand up on their own.
Since Albie Morkel’s last years with the franchise, they haven’t found an all-rounder who doubles up as a pinch-hitter and can open the bowling, but in IPL 2020 they found Sam Curran. The Men in Yellow suffered throughout the 2020 edition, not just because of their batting but because of their bowling and the chief behind that massacre was Jadeja himself. 2017 IPL was the last time the left-arm had a flop year in the IPL, by his own standards.
In 2017, the left-arm spinner finished with five wickets, averaging 69.80 with the ball while striking far and few in between, at 45.60, conceding 9.18 RPO. To put things into perspective, On Sunday, against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Jadeja conceded 13 runs off his four overs, picking up three wickets.
The fall of Jadeja coincided with the fall of the Super Kings
If there is one captain in the IPL who relies on his trusted allies more than others, it is CSK’s MS Dhoni and his trusted allies - Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja. But somewhere over the years, Suresh Raina’s fitness, form and weakness have left him more vulnerable than Jadeja. The Saurashtra all-rounder, at the same time, has grown multi-fold, in stature, in mentality and in terms of proving the team, a one-stop solution.
Jadeja is somebody who can change the game on his own and we have seen that significant change with the bat and in the bowling as well. It's good to give him that extra opportunity, the extra few balls where he can express himself
MS Dhoni after CSK's win over RCB
But the left-arm spinner had a relapse in 2020, where he had picked up just six wickets, averaging 53 and striking it at 36.33, conceding 8.75 RPO. That’s where Jadeja fell, that’s where Dhoni fell and, of course, that resulted in Chennai’s fallen fortunes. Chennai never looked like the side that was built on principles, trust and had a process of succeeding in the tournament.
Raina was gone, Harbhajan was gone, Jadeja was withering away with the ball and Dhoni succumbed under the pressure of not having control over the proceedings. Forcibly, Chennai had to play Karn Sharma and Piyush Chawla, both of whom underperformed for the franchise to turn their season upside down.
But Jadeja wasn’t an out-and-out failure
In reality, Jadeja’s batting sparked the new plan in the Super Kings, one that has seemingly taken them back to the top of the table. Last season, the southpaw scored 232 runs, averaging 46.4, facing just the 135 deliveries at a strike rate of 171.85. Having faced a minimum of 80 deliveries in the death overs, Jadeja was the third-best batsman in the league, just behind AB de Villiers and Kieron Pollard.
Out of the 89 deliveries that he has faced at the death, the 32-year-old scored 184 runs, averaging 46 while striking the ball at 206.74, with Pollard having a strike rate of 221.90 and de Villiers, 222.41. This allowed Chennai to pump the ball in the death, taking them one step at a time. In fact, the disparity between Jadeja and Chennai’s second-best batsman at the same time, MS Dhoni, is 110 runs, an average difference of 36.58 and a strike rate fall from 209 to 143.86.
That changed it all, for Chennai, for Dhoni and for the league, which had witnessed a Jadeja never-seen-before, at a strike rate that could compete with the best in the league. Like the apple that tumbled down from an apple tree onto a young Issac Newton, this Jadeja-sized apple struck Dhoni, which then helped CSK turn their fortunes around.
The rebuilding, the turnaround and mighty roar
Chennai were one of the calmest sides in the IPL Auction but was it out of fear or was it out of having a plan that was well defined? It was more of the latter, with them going all-out for both Glenn Maxwell and Moeen Ali. They got their man, Moeen Ali, and also got an Indian alternative in Krishnappa Gowtham. But the plan depended on Jadeja - an elevated status or continued problem?
The left-armer’s double-up, not just as a finisher but as a bowler, as a wicket-taker, as a controller in the middle-overs, has liberated the Super Kings. Chennai have used Moeen Ali more often than not as a second spin option, and against Bangalore they used Imran Tahir as the second spinner, with Dwayne Bravo operating as a primary death-over bowler.
That’s where Jadeja’s worth comes into play, his versatility glues the entire franchise and gives Dhoni plenty of workaround with the squad, with the combination as witnessed this season. It was really against Bangalore where the left-hander liberated the squad, with a scintillating 62, where Chennai didn’t even require the services of Dwayne Bravo and Sam Curran with the bat.
In the middle-overs, from 7-15, the left-arm spinner finds himself only behind Rahul Chahar as the most successful bowler, with five wickets. Alongside that, Moeen Ali has also picked four wickets, conceding 6.62 RPO, averaging just 13.25. It has allowed Chennai to control the innings, which was their biggest weakness in the 2020 edition.
For Chennai, their key to success has always been the middle-overs, as whenever they have controlled that stage of the encounter, they have ended up on the winning side. Now, more importantly, Jadeja’s form has liberated the Super Kings, allowing them to field an endless stream of strategies. With the Mega Auction around the corner, Chennai have to identify their core group really soon and if Ravindra Jadeja isn’t the first name on the list, then Chennai are doomed.