IPL 2021 CSK Preview: Can MS Dhoni Bow Out With Last Hurrah?
Can MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings pull off a turnaround this IPL season?
IPL 2020 was a season of a few firsts for Chennai Super Kings, though not in the manner their fans expected it to be.
The 13th edition of the IPL was the first time that Chennai did not qualify for the playoffs. In fact, their worst performance prior to finishing seventh in the last season was back in the second edition of the IPL when they were the last team to qualify for the playoffs.
It was also the first time that MS Dhoni scored less than 250 runs in an IPL season. While Chennai's performances were disappointing beyond doubt, what disappointed the die-hard Chennai Super Kings' fans (read Thala's fans) even more was that Dhoni's Midas touch was missing.
Does Dhoni Have Another Trophy in Him?
CSK’s campaign can go as it did last season or make a 360 degree turn, depending completely on if MS Dhoni finds his rhythm, both as a batsman and a leader. There is little doubt that the man is capable of achieving strange things. When in his element, he can make Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur look like Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.
But, to be honest, Dhoni is only human, as was evident in the last edition of the IPL, when he finished with just 200 runs from 14 matches at an ordinary average of 25.00 and a pedestrian strike rate of 116.27.
There were a couple of occasions when he hit some massive sixes, but almost all of them came when the match was already gone. In his defence, with the strict lockdown in place in India, Dhoni did not get enough time to prepare for the breakneck pace and top-drawer competition of the league. With an extended camp before the beginning of this year's IPL, he looks a lot more equipped to turn back the clock.
Onus on Chinna Thala
Alongside MS Dhoni, CSK's fortunes will depend on how Suresh Raina fares. When Raina controversially returned from the UAE even before the last season of the IPL could kick off, there were mumblings that CSK might have seen the last of Chinna Thala. Fortunately, he will still don yellow in the IPL.
Known as Mr. IPL for good reason, Raina is the second-highest run-scorer in the history of the league with 5,368 runs from 193 IPL matches at an average of 33.34 and a strike rate of 137.14. However, his returns over the last few years have been dwindling.
He managed 383 runs in IPL 2019 at an average of 23.93 and a strike rate of 121.97 which are not extraordinary figures. Still, the experience and nous which Raina brings with him will certainly provide heft to the CSK batting line-up.
Having finished with one half-century in five outings in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy, Raina has not been in the thick of things as much in competitive cricket. The elegant left-hander will have to be right on the money for not only Chennai to do well but for him to retain his pivotal No. 3 spot throughout the season.
Middle Order Bears Familiar Look
What CSK have managed to achieve after the last season, more than acquiring new players, is to get rid of the NPAs.
Murali Vijay and Shane Watson were tried as openers in the last season but could not deliver, which pulled the team down.
This time around, CSK will open with Faf du Plessis, who was the top scorer for Chennai in the last edition with 449 runs from 13 games and Rituraj Gaikwad, who scored more than 200 runs from only six opportunities.
CSK's middle-order has a more familiar look to it with Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu and fit-again Ravindra Jadeja featuring. Following MS Dhoni in the batting order, the newly-acquired Moeen Ali provides a good off-spin option apart from the ability to tonk a few at No. 7.
Apart from the batsmen who will be part of the starting XI, CSK have also roped in a few impressive back-up options, not least of which is Cheteshwar Pujara, who will not start for CSK but can be the sheet anchor around whom the power-hitters rally. With Pujara around, one thing is for sure that batting collapses go out of the window.
The team also has wicket-keeper batsman Robin Uthappa who is a back-up option for opener Ruturaj Gaikwad in case of injury or loss of form. Likewise, N Jagadeesan will serve as back-up for the middle order in case anything goes wrong with Ambati Rayudu or Suresh Raina.
Chennai's Bowling Holds Its Own
Sam Curran showed in the last ODI between India and England what he is capable of lower down the order with a match-defining 95. He is also expected to take the new ball alongside Deepak Chahar.
In fact, Curran and Deepak Chahar were the top wicket-takers for Chennai in the last season with 13 and 12 wickets respectively. Chahar had a brilliant economy rate of 7.61 and bowled well in the powerplay as well as at the death.
Shardul Thakur's rise in Team India's ranks is another great sign for CSK and his death bowling will need to come to the forefront, particularly now that Dwayne Bravo is unlikely to make the cut ahead of Curran. Thakur's slew of variations, including the off cutter, the leg cutter and the knuckleball, will be a handful for the opposition batsmen, particularly when matches are played on grounds with sizeable outfields.
With Josh Hazlewood having pulled out at the last minute, the team has the choice of playing an overseas bowler between South African pacer Lungi Ngidi and compatriot legendary leggie Imran Tahir.
That CSK spent INR 9.25 crore for bowling all-rounder Krishnappa Gowtham clearly means that they are looking at him as an important player. Gowtham appears to be the Indian option for the role of Moeen Ali.
If Dhoni wants to play either an extra overseas batsman or an extra overseas pacer in the XI, he can slot in Gowtham in place of Moeen Ali as a like-for-like replacement. CSK also have right-arm medium-pacer KM Asif and left-arm orthodox R Sai Kishore as good Indian back-up options.
To state the obvious, MSD is 39 years old and even as fans continue to hope against hope, this will be his last IPL season. And, what can be a better farewell than to finish with his fourth IPL trophy. Although it seems improbable, impossible is not a word you ever utter with Mahi at the helm.
Faf du Plessis, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni (C&WK), Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Lungi Ngidi
MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Faf du Plessis, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, N Jagadeesan, Robin Uthappa, Sam Curran, Dwayne Bravo, Karn Sharma, R Sai Kishore, Mitchell Santner, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur, Lungi Ngidi, KM Asif, Moeen Ali, K Gowtham, Cheteshwar Pujara, M Harisankar Reddy, K Bhagath Varma, C Hari Nishanth
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