Chennai Super Kings are usually the most stable and ‘calm’ side in Indian Premier League, but 2020, much like how the year in itself, has been different. While all other teams in the IPL are making the right noises, CSK’s start to their campaign in UAE has been anything but stable or calm. As many as 13 members of their touring party, including 2 players, tested positive for COVID-19.
Soon after, one of the pillars of the team, Suresh Raina left the country very abruptly and the tournament for personal reasons. Multiple theories and controversial comments from owner N Srinivasan followed. Denials and clarifications ensued, with Raina even saying he might return to the camp at some stage.
While all other teams have begun training, CSK are still in their hotel rooms waiting to complete the testing and isolation protocols. They’d be desperate to get back onto the park, for playing the game is the only way to distract from all the off-field noises.
Fortunately for CSK, their biggest strength is their top leadership group. Or to be precise, MS Dhoni. The former India captain has seen enough controversies in his career and will know exactly how to handle these issues. Srinivasan even mentioned that Dhoni was in ‘complete control’, as he has always been of CSK. Not just Dhoni, the team too has seen plenty of ups and downs - being banned from IPL for two years being one of them. CSK would thus know how to handle this situation and not panic.
On the cricket front too, CSK’s strength is their captain. If one had to point to a single reason for CSK’s success over the years, he/she would close their eyes and point to MS Dhoni. Dhoni gives them stability on and off the field. Dhoni gives them the thrilling finishes and flash-stumpings. Dhoni handles the bowling unit, getting the best out of even the inexperienced ones. In short, Dhoni is the biggest ‘strength’ that handles other ‘strengths’.
Dhoni aside, CSK’s success is a result of their experience and versatility. They overcame criticism of being an aged team to win the title in 2018, showing age = experience. One must also remember the circumstances in which they won; their home games were shifted from Chennai to Pune after just one match, but CSK had it in them to adjust to different conditions and keep winning.
CSK would be looking to do something similar this year too. This time, they’ll perhaps welcome the move to the slow and spinning pitches of UAE given their spin strength. Imran Tahir, Piyush Chawla, Ravindra Jadeja, Sai Kishore and Mitchell Santner - they’ve got a variety of spin options to choose from. Bowlers like Dwayne Bravo too would love bowling on such tracks given his variations.Suresh Raina
The bowlers might enjoy such pitches, but what of the batsmen? CSK had big holes in their batting unit last season, and were bailed out by Dhoni often. The captain made in excess of 400 runs, carrying the batting single handedly on most occasions. That CSK made it to the final was because of Dhoni’s consistency with the bat.
No other CSK batsman made 400 in the season, and batting will only be tougher this year given the conditions. And to make matters worse, they do not have Raina with them. The No. 3 made only 383 runs in IPL 2019 but is still a huge player for CSK, and his absence will make the team rework their combination. Who will form the top-order now? Will M Vijay open and Ambati Rayudu bat at No. 3? Or will Dhoni himself move up like Gautam Gambhir suggested. How about Sam Curran at the top? These are the combinations CSK will discuss in the lead up to the tournament.
IPL 2019 performance
CSK finished runner-up in 2019, losing to Mumbai Indians in a thriller by just one run.
Highest scorer: MS Dhoni, 416 runs
Highest wicket taker: Imran Tahir, 26 wickets.
Most notable auction purchases
As they often do, CSK retained a bulk of their players ahead of the IPL 2020 player auction. They did make a couple of crucial purchases. England’s Sam Curran, just 22 years old, will give CSK the much needed fresh legs. Curran is exactly the type of player Dhoni would love to work with - handy with the bat, highly able with the ball. How Dhoni uses Curran will be interesting to see.
The other important purchase is that of Piyush Chawla. The decision made heads turn, but CSK knew what they were after. Chawla has experience by his side, having picked up 150 wickets in IPL. The tournament moving to UAE might make the buy even more worth it, as it also gives CSK flexibility with their foreign players in case they have to drop Imran Tahir.
History in IPL
CSK are the only side to have made it to the last four in every season they’ve been a part of. They’ve won the title thrice - in 2010, 2011 and 2018. However, they’ve also lost fiev finals (2008, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2019), which is not a record they’d be proud of.
Chances/Prediction in IPL 2020
As always, CSK start as one of the top teams. However, their batting this season could be a bit of a worry. Raina is not there, and Dhoni has not played professional cricket since July 2019. The pre season build up has been full of distractions too. It won’t be a surprise if IPL 2020 is the first time they don’t make it to the final four. Unless of course, MS Dhoni magic and their spin strength pulls them through.
MS Dhoni(C), Ambati Rayudu, KM Asif, Deepak Chahar, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Narayan Jagdeesan, Karn Sharma, Kedar Jadhav, Lungi Ngidi, Mitchell Santner, Monu Kumar, Murali Vijay, Ravindra Jadeja, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shane Watson, Shardul Thakur, Sam Curran, Piyush Chawla, Josh Hazlewood, P Sai Kishore.