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IPL 2022: Relinquishing CSK Captaincy Will Free Ravindra Jadeja Up to Play at his Best?

Under Ravindra Jadeja, CSK have had a bad start to the season.

Under Ravindra Jadeja, CSK have had a bad start to the season.

Ravindra Jadeja’s tepid form this season is the touted reason why he has relinquished the captaincy mid-way

Chennai Super Kings doled out Saturday shock for cricket fans. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who had quit the captaincy a couple of days before the start of IPL 15, was reinstated with leadership responsibilities after Ravindra Jadeja decided to step down. The timing of this change as well as Dhoni’s return suggested not just deep concern, but possibly panic in the defending champions.

It’s not that captains haven’t been changed mid-stream in an IPL season earlier. Last year, for example, David Warner had to make way for Kane Williamson as captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad. Season prior to that, Dinesh Karthik was replaced by Eoin Morgan. There are other examples too.

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In most such cases, the trigger for making the change has been a string of poor performances and adverse results. During this season, and CSK have had a horror run so far in IPL, losing eight of 10 matches played. And yet, this development comes as a major surprise.

Among all franchises in the league, CSK have been considered as the most stable, believing in continuity and rewarding loyalty. Even in excruciating circumstances, the CSK have hardly ever shown volatility or impatience in dealing with players, instead reposing greater faith in them. CSK’s four titles so far in the tournament are seen as testimony to its trusting and respectful cultural ethos.

Also, this is not the first time CSK has seen a slump. In 2020 too, the team hit a trough and finished as a laggard. But next season they fought back to regain the title to reiterate all the attributes that make managerial, cultural and cricketing practices of the franchise so highly regarded.

It is in this context that Dhoni’s comeback is a surprise. Usually, CSK planning is meticulous, in choosing players, captain, coach, support staff, et al. As a process of assimilation, each member of the squad or support staff is given enough time to settle down, jell with each other, This time, get primed for giving off the best on the field. This time, there have been several discordant notes.

Dhoni giving up the captaincy a couple of days before the tournament started was in itself an unexpected development, at least for the world at large. It is reasonable to assume that Dhoni’s decision was known in the upper echelons of the franchise earlier, but it would have had an unsettling effect on the rest of the squad because the new captain would take some time to come to terms with the job and establish a rapport with the rest of the squad.

Making Jadeja captain was actually a no-brainer in the circumstances. He has been with the team for long, and after Dhoni and the now retired Raina, was completely identified with CSK. He is also one of the world’s most celebrated all-rounders, assured of his place in the side at all times, and a matchwinner on umpteen occasions.

Jadeja’s tepid form this season is the touted reason why he has relinquished the captaincy mid-way. However, this is unusual coming from a CSK player because the franchise has always supported its players, whatever their form. Bu Clearly Jadeja was feeling the pressure, within the team environment as well as being bothered about protecting his own reputation which was getting dented with the unending sequence of defeats.

In hindsight, it must be asked whether the issue of captaincy had been completely and meticulously thought through by CSK? Jadeja being elevated to this position should have meant he would hold the reins for at a couple of seasons, irrespective of results. If setbacks in the first season itself were going to create turmoil, what was the back-up plan apart from going back to Dhoni?

Clearly, veterans Ambati Rayudu and Robin Uthupa and relatively inexperienced Ruturaj Gaikwad were not considered viable options. For different reasons, neither were veteran overseas players Dwayne Bravo or Moeen Ali.

The current crisis also highlights the flawed strategy in the mega auction preceding the tournament when CSK did not make a concerted bid to retain Faf du Plessis, Josh Hazlewood and Shardul Thakur, all major contributors in the title win last season.

Of these, the loss of du Plessis has come to bite the most. Not only would he have added considerable heft to the top order batting, but would also have been the best captaincy option, either from the start, or mid-way through if crisis hit, as it has now.

Where do CSK go from here?

All things considered, Jadeja’s decision to step down must be seen as courageous. Captaincy is something every player at any level aspires for. The power, privileged attached to it is hugely seductive. Giving up such an important post is not easy, and comes after much soul-searching and umpteen reality checks. Will this free him up to play at his best or weigh down on him remains to be seen. It is one thing to give up the captaincy with a healthy win record, quite another when it’s the other way around.

Which brings us to MS Dhoni. He has been CSK’s face and heart and head from the inception of the IPL. An inspiring leader with a magnificent record, and verily CSK’s go-to man in any crisis. At 41, with very little left to achieve in the game, can he stem the panic in and turn things around for his franchise is the question on everyone’s lips.

Only time will tell.

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