The Changes CSK Could to Make to Save Their IPL Campaign
What changes can CSK make to their batting order before the next game?
“All bets are on the table at the moment as we try to find a way that we are comfortable with.”
Stephen Fleming, the head coach stated after Chennai Super Kings ambled along to another meek surrender in the IPL season, this time to Delhi Capitals. Let’s face it – CSK have hit a roadblock. You could count out varying reasons ranging from Suresh Raina’s absence to Ambati Rayudu’s injury, MS Dhoni’s waning form, Shane Watson’s lazy starts and Ravindra Jadeja’s stingless bowling as reasons for their questionable performances in IPL 2020. But Fleming chose to factor in on the pitches where they have played.
“We're looking to develop a personality based on the wickets that we're facing. Each wicket has been completely different, and our batting line-up is, without Rayudu, [Suresh] Raina etc, we're trying to find a way or a combination and how to use players, and give players opportunities early on, so we know what we've got as the tournament goes on. We've learned a massive amount over three days,” Fleming said.
An easy target? Sure, but he does have a point. CSK played their three matches so far on three different wickets – Abu Dhabi (vs MI), Sharjah (vs RR) and Dubai (vs DC). For a team still grappling to play the right replacements for Raina and Harbhajan, three outings on three grounds are too much of an adjustment to make in short notice. Especially when they are habituated to having specific roles for specific players and that too in the nice comfort zone of their hub at Chepauk.
Chennai’s whole template during IPL seasons involve maximising their win percentage at home and finding a way to squeeze in a few away wins to qualify to the play-offs. With that pattern out of the window in addition to personnel changes and varying conditions in the first three games, the team has struggled to cope. Dubai, where they play six more games, was the venue they lost to Delhi at, but Fleming mentions that it’s one pitch they need to win on – think along the lines of CSK trying to make Dubai their home base.
“We are looking forward to playing a number of games here (in Dubai), so we were really interested in how this pitch played and get conditions right so we can get the right combination.”Stephen Fleming
Now that they have a hang of the wicket and admitted that changes are in the offing after some listless performances, we could see CSK shuffle around a bit more. Their major task is finding their best XI, particularly for the Dubai wicket.
“At the moment we're really searching, both as players and as management, to get the combination right. We're too batter-heavy if we play the extra batter and too bowler-heavy if we play the extra bowler. We're struggling a little bit to find our momentum but that will come with a bit of time off and experience from these three games.”
What Changes Can CSK Make?
Fleming’s words clearly hint at impending changes to the line-up. So, where do they start?
Let’s put it out there – Shane Watson might finally need to be benched. The Aussie is one of the slowest off the blocks in the first six overs and combining him with Murali Vijay, who is well past his prime, has been a game-losing tactic. The two run-chases against RR and DC effectively ended after the powerplay as they were staring at skyscrapers in terms of required run-rate post that phase.
“I feel when it comes to the batting department, we are lacking a bit of steam. There is no momentum right from the start, which hurts. If you are already chasing 160-plus, the run-rate keeps mounting and it puts added pressure on the middle-order batsmen. So, we need to figure that out,” Dhoni had said after the loss to Delhi.
Watson and Vijay sitting out opens two slots at the top and if CSK are bold enough, the right move could see Sam Curran pushed to open the batting. The quickest player in the league this season, Curran has thrived on cameos and a Sunil Narine-like role at the top could benefit a team like CSK in particular because they can afford their middle-order batsmen to settle in and build towards a better strike-rate if Curran gives them a good amount of runs in few overs at the start.
Ruturaj Gaikwad seems to be finally in CSK’s plans but the youngster has been misused.
In 27 of his 28 professional T20 games before the season, Gaikwad had opened the batting. Here, he was languishing in the middle-order. Handing more responsibility in a familiar role to the youngster could benefit him and the team.
With Curran and Gaikwad set at the top, the middle-order sorts itself – Faf du Plessis, the dynamic Ambati Rayudu who showcased his range in game one and MS Dhoni. For those uncertain about Dhoni’s batting role in the team, he is likely to only come in if he really has to at least until he finds his groove, and that’s clearly the right choice because you’d rather have someone who knows his flaws and adapts accordingly than have someone who tries to be a person he is not.
Dhoni and Fleming talked of CSK having one batsman too many and this is where the axe could fall on someone like Jadhav. CSK have two options here. They could go to Dwayne Bravo as the all-rounder at number 6, giving them two extra bowling options (Curran and Bravo) in the top six. But this will mean that CSK can play only one of Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi, Mitchell Santner or Josh Hazlewood.
That could spell disaster for them, Instead, what CSK could do is slot Jadhav in the top six and try and get an over or two off him. The bowling, which has conceded more than what CSK would like in the last two games, would then be able to accommodate the natural wicket-taker, Imran Tahir. While Piyush Chawla was impressive against MI, his bowling was taken apart in the next two games, and the quicker CSK bring Tahir back, the better.
Lungi Ngidi, despite his 30-run over, is a fine death bowler while Josh Hazlewood too hit his straps last game. CSK could rotate between the two and Dwayne Bravo based on the pitch.
Jadeja, Deepak Chahar take up two more positions leaving open the one spinner slot. Now, CSK could of course use Chawla here and with Tahir bowling in tandem with him, Chawla could get more wickets from his end.
However, it won’t be a bad option to play Ravi Sai Kishore. In 22 games, he has 26 wickets in T20s and was the top wicket-taker in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy last year with 20 wickets in 12 games. The Tamil Nadu spinner is also a powerplay bowler, who loves bowling in the first six overs, an area where CSK have leaked runs this season. His inclusion will help them throw a spinner in the works when it comes to bowling with the new ball given that the current attack is a tad one-dimensional.
Potential CSK XI: Curran, Gaikwad, du Plessis, Rayudu, Dhoni, Jadhav, Jadeja, Chahar, Tahir, Sai Kishore, Ngidi/Hazlewood.
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