It's a question Chennai Super Kings did not think they will have to answer when the IPL auction took place last December. Suresh Raina, a veteran of 193 IPL matches, and Harbhajan Singh, 160 matches, missing the entire season for them wasn't in Chennai's checklist.
However, uncertain times have thrown up uncomfortable questions at CSK and with less than two weeks to go for the first match of the season against defending champions, Mumbai Indians, Chennai are still uncertain about how they should change their style of play or which players will fit in for Raina and Harbhajan.
With replacements not being named for either yet, we look at alternative line-up adjustments and replacements CSK could consider from within the squad in order to put out their best team.
Move MS Dhoni to No.3
Gautam Gambhir suggested moving MS Dhoni up the batting order to fill in for Raina and it might not be the worst suggestion.
"MS Dhoni at No. 3 and then they have got depth with Kedar Jadhav, Dwayne Bravo, Sam Curran, all those guys they can come in. So, I think it is going to be a great opportunity for someone like MS Dhoni and I am sure he is going to relish that. Also, Suresh Raina not being there, you want to have some experienced player batting at No. 3, so it could be MS Dhoni now," Gambhir said.
Dhoni has done a fine job of finishing games at CSK despite his questionable performances for India in T20Is. However, his strike rate in the middle overs has been questionable particularly when spinners are in operation. In fact, in the last three IPL seasons, there has been no one more ineffective against spin in terms of strike rate in the middle overs.
This puts a question mark on Dhoni's batting position and effectiveness at no.5 or no.6.
Instead, the CSK skipper could consider walking out in the Powerplay overs and dominating the bowling early on.
With CSK having Mitchell Santner or Sam Curran, Jadeja and Bravo down the order, Dhoni really has the leeway to go up the batting line-up.
Ruturaj Gaikwad Steps in for Raina at 3
In the interview with Outlook, CSK chief N Srinivasan pointed out Ruturaj Gaikwad as a possible replacement for Raina at no.3. The aggressive, yet solid batsman has had a huge impact in domestic circles and is just 23. A part of the CSK setup since 2019, Gaikwad was hailed as having a good cricketing brain by none other than MS Dhoni.
Gaikwad has racked up runs for fun in domestic cricket. In the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 competition, Gaikwad made 419 runs last season, finishing second behind Devdutt Padikkal. With an average of 41.9 and a strike rate of 146.5, Gaikwad was effective at the top for Maharashtra.
Gaikwad can open the batting and also slot in at no.3. He could be used in either role alongside Faf du Plessis or Ambati Rayudu and Shane Watson. While CSK aren't really known for blooding youngsters, they clearly rate Gaikwad highly and it could well be his season this time.
Piyush Chawla and Twin Leggies
CSK have a long array of spinners up their sleeve, yet Harbhajan Singh's absence will majorly hit them in the ability of containing batsmen. They do not have anyone with as much experience of controlling the run flow in the line-up. As such, replacing Harbhajan with a similar kind of bowler could come with its own set of question marks.
The alternative option is to take wickets to restrict the run flow and it is here that CSK might need a fundamental change in their thinking. They had bought Piyush Chawla at the auction and alongside Imran Tahir, the veteran Indian leggie could form a good partnership in the middle overs.
While it's not really in sync with CSK's modus operandi, attacking with two leggies in the middle overs has its benefits in UAE, particularly where spinners will find good purchase. Add in Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo's slower balls and CSK could be covered in the middle overs with some real wicket-taking options.
Grooming a Young Sai Kishore
The other option to replace Harbhajan Singh could be youngster R Sai Kishore, who is known for his bowling in the Powerplay overs.
Familiar with slow and low decks having played in Chennai a lot, Kishore is a tidy left-arm spinner who had massive success with the new ball in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament last year. He took 20 wickets at a stunning economy rate of 4.63 for Tamil Nadu in the tournament and his job at CSK could essentially be the same.
Known to dish out spin early, Chennai could even take inspiration from some of the Caribbean Premier League teams and go with all spin in the Powerplay overs on Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s slower decks.
Sai Kishore is an orthodox left-arm spinner in the mould of Mitchell Santner and could cover for him in the team while not using up an overseas slot in the team. With match-ups a big part of T20 cricket, we could see Sai Kishore coming in against teams that have more right-handers at the top of the batting order given that he turns the ball away from them.
(Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @imRohit_SN. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)