IPL 2023 | Chennai Super Kings - Breaking sweat to bounce back from bottom

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Chennai Super Kings are often associated with the word domination but they were their own shadow from the past in the IPL 2022 finishing at the penultimate spot in the points table. Now, with a key signing of Ben Stokes, CSK look forward to changing their fate and reliving the good old glory days.

The four-time champions of the Indian Premier League, Chennai Super Kings are considered to be one of the elite teams in franchise cricket courtesy of their exploits in the format. With a genius skipper like MS Dhoni captaining the squad, the ‘Yellow Army’ are always a title contender. They are known for banking on experience and carving out success with veterans taking center stage. However, last season was a bizarre scenario for the franchise. In 2022, they were in contention of topping the points table from the bottom, not the top. Even the best of the teams have a bad day on some occasions but it was a whole set of poor outings for CSK in the last edition. Only a better net run rate than Mumbai Indians saved them from finishing last by the end of the season. 

The ‘Dad’s Army’ was heading into the tournament with a champions tag as they had won the previous season. Even before the commencement of the competition, they handed over the leadership duties to Ravindra Jadeja substituting MS Dhoni in the role but that was the start of their debacle. In his eight games as a man in charge, CSK managed to win only two games. MS Dhoni was back at the helm after a poor start but he was also unable to revive the franchise and they finished at the penultimate position in the points table with just four wins from 14 games. 

The captaincy decision went wrong but it wasn't the sole reason for the end product. A combination of lackluster individual performances, especially from batters and injuries to key players like Deepak Chahar ahead of the tournament aggravated the crisis further and the sinking ship never survived drowning in the deep waters. 

Some positives to take away from a disappointing campaign

There are only a few things that worked for the franchise, and nothing would be more appropriate to back the statement than their position in the points table. However, every cloud has a silver lining and their few positives were with the ball which included some average performances. Mukesh Chowdhary and Maheesh Theekshana turned out to be the superheroes for a side who were struggling on all fronts. In fact, the former turned out to be an emerging star picking the highest number of wickets for the team with 16 dismissals from 13 matches with an average of 26.5 and a strike rate of 17. Deepak Chahar was missing the tournament and the Indian youngster did well to bolster the bowling unit to some extent in his absence. 

Theekshana was another star who shined with the ball picking 12 wickets from nine games with a brilliant bowling average of 21.75 and a strike rate of 17.5. He bowled his overs majorly in the middle phase of the innings with an economy of 7.45. Moeen Ali also rolled his arm with an economy of 6.62 from 10 innings and the performance from both of them made CSK the fourth-best side in terms of conceding runs in the overs between 7 and 15. They leaked only 69 runs in the mentioned period placing themselves behind LSG, RCB, and KKR. Also, the team’s death specialist Dwayne Bravo was brilliant with his variations yet again taking 16 wickets from 10 innings and registering both the average and strike rate below 20 in aggregate. As Bravo has retired, the team will now have to hand over the responsibility of restricting opposition batters at the back end to someone else. 

Shortcomings that led to the debacle

There are uncountable reasons for how CSK’s campaign shaped last year and comparing some factors to the title-winning team from 2021 would make the explanation pretty easy. The batting unit was the main culprit in the previous edition, but the lack of wicket-taking ability in certain phases from the team made the matters worse. When Dhoni and Co. lifted the trophy in 2021, two openers, Faf du Plessis and Ruturaj Gaikwad had scored over 600 runs throughout the season with an average of over 40. This time around, none of the batters achieved the same feat and Ruturaj was the sole player to cross the 350-run mark. Further, Rayudu’s run tally didn't differ much as compared to the title-winning campaign, but his strike rate took a massive bump. The 37-year-old had a strike rate of 151.17 in 2021 while the number dwindled to 122.32 last year. 

The overall failure of producing a mesmerising performance from the batting unit translated into the team scoring fourth least total on average throughout the tournament. Apart from Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja’s batting performance was also dismal and that resulted in CSK scoring the fourth lowest average total throughout the season between overs 7 and 15. The Saurashtra all-rounder managed to gather just 116 runs from 10 innings with a disappointing strike rate of 118.36. Shivam Dube was the explosive batter for the team with a strike rate of 156.21 and he tried to accelerate the innings at the back end on a few occasions but the lack of explosion from the other end made CSK placed seventh on the list of teams who have scored most runs in the slog overs. MS Dhoni struck at a strike rate of 123.4 which was pretty ordinary for a lower order batter and a player who was known to be the best finisher in the world of cricket at one point in time. 

An injury to Deepak Chahar was a big blow for CSK and that impacted their bowling in powerplay overs. While Mukesh Choudhary displayed his talent from one end, there was no other bowler to wreak havoc with the new ball. As a result, the team conceded 48 runs on average in the powerplay which is the third highest amongst all 10 teams. Dwayne Bravo was prolific for CSK but there was no other death specialist who would partner with him. Owing to the lack of a bowler who will take wickets at the death, CSK were at the penultimate position in the list of teams who have taken the most wickets in the slog overs. Summing up the report card of the bowling unit, the side with the least wickets taken in the tournament will have a lot of work to do ahead of the start of the competition. 

Tactics at the auction table

The Yellow Army lagged behind in the batting department as well as bowling last season but they entered the auction intending to find the remedy to the problem. In the bidding war room, CSK came up with a solution of adding Ben Stokes to the roster for a whopping amount of INR 16.25 Crores. The English all-rounder can bat anywhere in the top five and can roll his arm for four overs. 

With the retirement of Bravo, Dhoni’s brigade lacks a death-over specialist and they have tried to address that problem with the addition of Ben Stokes to some extent. However, a more solid option with the ball was needed for the back end and so the paddle was raised by the franchise during the bidding process till they acquired Kyle Jamieson’s services. However, the New Zealand pacer was injured ahead of the competition and so they named Sisanda Magala as his replacement. The South African bowler has showcased his ability to hit tight spots in the death overs in SA20 and so the team might rely on him in some fixtures to provide a finish with the ball in hand. 

These two were the key choices but after looking at the performance of the batting unit last season, they felt the urge to recruit a specialist batter. CSK then opted for Ajinkya Rahane who might be the backup option for the team for the opening spot in case Ruturaj suffers a dip in form or either of the openers gets injured. Utilising resources on his hands is the best trait in Dhoni’s captaincy, so spinners in the side will play a crucial role for the franchise. Taking into account the help offered by Chepauk for spinners, CSK have brought Indian spinners like Nishant Sindhu and Bhagath Varma into the auction. 

Possible plans to capitalise impact player rule 

IPL 2023 will also add a new dynamic to the tournament with the introduction of the impact player. The freedom to use one extra player within the game opens up numerous possibilities for franchises and they can enter the arena with several permutations and combinations. However, the limitations of using only four overseas players despite impact player rule might become a headache for CSK in team selection. They have three all-rounders Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, and Dwaine Pretorious who are going to play a vital role in both innings. Devon Conway was an outstanding opener for the team last season and so leaving him out also becomes a tough choice. Then there is Magala who can cover death bowling for them where the team lack the most. 

Here are the details of the newly introduced impact player rule.

With such difficulty, while making the playing XI, the franchise might have to drop Conway for at least the first couple of games.  While playing on the home venue, the franchise can rotate between Prashant Solanki and Ambati Rayudu as an impact player depending on what they do in the first innings. Whenever they will play on surfaces that are friendly for pacers the team can play Simarjeet Singh as an impact player. 

Tournament Prediction

Overall, the team has built a strong spin unit that includes the likes of Theekshana, Jadeja, and Moeen Ali which can exploit the home conditions fully. Apart from them, they have Indian spinners like Solanki or other uncapped players.  However, while playing away and on tracks lacking swing, they might struggle as Deepak Chahar will be their strike bowler. Also, the responsibility for the death overs will be on Pretorious and so that also makes the last phase of the innings while bowling a tricky territory for the team. Also, a few reports surfaced recently that have revealed that Mukesh Choudhary will miss the tournament, and if that comes true, CSK will face a big blow. Taking all the factors into account, they are likely to have their best finish at the fifth or sixth position in the points table and not advance into the playoffs.

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