What Should Be Chennai Super Kings’ Strategy for IPL 2021 Auction?

CSK released only six players from their squad last month and retained their core-group of 18 players.

8 min read
Chennai Super Kings team in a huddle before the game.

The failures and struggles encountered in the 2020 Indian Premier League season gave the Chennai Super Kings a lot of things to think about. They finished second from bottom in the IPL table and that sums up how far their performance deteriorated. After all, they were a side that had made it to the playoffs in every edition of the tournament they featured in. They have three titles to their name too. So the results of IPL2020 were quite hard to digest, both for them and their fans.


Skipper MS Dhoni admitted last year that it's time to make some changes to the squad even though he has been a big advocate of consistency and backing his players always. However, CSK released only six players from their squad last month and retained their core-group of 18 players. That has given them quite a significant purse to work with in the Auction, though. Even after trading in Robin Uthappa from Rajasthan Royals during the trading window, CSK have a budget of INR 19.9 crore to work with.

PLAYERS RETAINED: MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, N Jagadeesan, Faf Du Plessis, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Sam Curran, Ravi Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Mitchell Santner, Josh Hazlewood, Shardul Thakur, Karn Sharma, KM Asif, Imran Tahir, R. Sai Kishore, Deepak Chahar, Lungi Ngidi.

PLAYERS RELEASED: Kedar Jadhav, Piyush Chawla, Murali Vijay, Monu Kumar, Harbhajan Singh, Shane Watson (Retired)

Players traded in: Robin Uthappa

IPL 2021 Auction Budget: INR 19.9 Cr

Slots to fill: 6 (1 overseas)

The purse available surely gives them the freedom to go for at least one or two big-budget players. But to understand the type of players they would be looking to invest in during the Auction, we need to take a look at the issues they faced last year.

Problems encountered in IPL 2020

CSK's problems started even before the tournament kicked off. Their ace batsman Suresh Raina pulled out of the season and headed back to India from UAE citing personal reasons. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh didn't even travel with the squad to the UAE and had pulled out due to personal reasons as well.

Raina's unavailability left CSK with a batting lineup that had no other left-handed batsman in the top six and without Harbhajan, their spin-bowling attack became quite one-dimensional too. He was the only specialist off-spinner in their squad, whereas all others were either left-arm orthodox spinners or leg-spinners. That means all of them spun the ball in the same direction, which in turn made it easy for batsmen to play and plan against them.

In fact, the inability of their spinners to pick up wickets hurt them a lot. There was a huge difference between how their pacers and spinners performed during the season.

Image: Prasenjit Dey
Image: Prasenjit Dey
Image: Prasenjit Dey

Another major issue they encountered was their inability to pick up wickets inside the powerplay. CSK bowlers had the second worst average and strike-rate among all teams in IPL 2020.

Only Kolkata Knight Riders had a worse powerplay bowling average and strike-rate than CSK.

What Should Be Chennai Super Kings’ Strategy for IPL 2021 Auction?
Image: Prasenjit Dey

Lack of early breakthroughs never allowed CSK to get the upper hand over their opponents and thus it turned out to be one of the major reasons behind their struggles. Their problems didn't end here as they had issues in their batting unit as well.

CSK batsmen failed to press on the accelerator in the middle-overs throughout the season and that put extra pressure on the Lower-order batsmen in the death overs. The Lower-order actually did well but the lack of acceleration in the middle-overs never allowed them to set the base for big totals.

What Should Be Chennai Super Kings’ Strategy for IPL 2021 Auction?
Image: Prasenjit Dey

In fact, CSK batsmen recorded the third lowest strike-rate (119.58) in the middle-overs (7-15) among that of all other teams in IPL 2020. Only RCB and KKR batsmen had a worse strike-rate during that phase of play.

Apart from Shane Watson, none of their other batters had a strike-rate of 140 or more in that phase. Every other batsman scored at a strike-rate below 130. Watson has also retired now, so he won't be featuring in the forthcoming edition anymore. So that increases the problems for CSK even further.

What Should Be Chennai Super Kings’ Strategy for IPL 2021 Auction?
Image: Prasenjit Dey

The first and foremost thing CSK should look for in the auction is a middle-overs power hitter. Once they have acquired that player, their attention should shift towards getting a quality off-spinner. However, they can kill two birds with one stone if they go for a batting all-rounder who bowls off-breaks.

CSK have one overseas slot left to fill and either of Moeen Ali, Glenn Maxwell and Mahmudullah Riyad could fit nicely into that slot.

What Should Be Chennai Super Kings’ Strategy for IPL 2021 Auction?
Image: Prasenjit Dey

Moeen Ali should be CSK's first-choice player to replace Watson

Moeen Ali has the fourth highest strike-rate among batsmen who have faced at least 100 deliveries in the middle-overs (7-15) of IPL since 2016. He gives CSK a left-handed batting option too, which will help them in match-ups further. Moreover, he is a decent off-spinner to have in a T20 side as well. It surely requires some quality to pick up 110 wickets in the format, that too at a good economy rate of 7.68.

The 33-year-old gave us a glimpse of what he can do with his cameo of 43 off just 18 deliveries in the fourth innings of the recently concluded second Test match against India. He picked up eight wickets too, which shows how good he is as a bowler once again.

Even if they don't get Ali, Maxwell will be a good option for them too. After Ali, he has the next best middle-overs strike-rate (149.07) since IPL 2016, among players who are featuring in the upcoming auction. He might not be a regular bowler like Ali, but he has 108 T20 wickets to his name as well -- at a decent economy rate of 7.70 once again.

Mahmudullah Riyad could be dark horse

CSK should be able to get either of Ali or Maxwell considering the purse they have but considering the worst case scenario, Bangladesh's Mahmudullah Riyad won't be a bad option for them either. Yes, he has never featured in the IPL but that's where he could turn out to be a useful pick for them.

In the last two editions of the Bangladesh Premier League, Mahmudullah has recorded a strike-rate of 130.95 in the middle-overs (7-15). That might not seem like that good a strike-rate but the conditions in Bangladesh are quite similar to that of Chepauk. So it's a fairly good scoring rate looking from that angle. Moreover, he has picked up 12 wickets with his off-breaks in the last two editions of the BPL as well, at a good economy rate of 6.85.

Krishnappa Gowtham could be a handy option as an off-spinner for CSK

Talking about off-spinners now, there aren't that many good options available in the Auction but players like Krishnappa Gowtham, Jalaj Saxena and Parvez Rasool might come in handy. Gowtham was released by Kings XI Punjab last month. Moreover, he has significant experience of playing in the IPL as well and that's why he should be the first-choice off-spinner for CSK.

Gowtham played four matches during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last month and picked up an equal number of wickets at an excellent economy rate of 5.92. Saxena, though, came up with better bowling returns than Gowtham. He picked up 10 wickets in the five matches he played during the tournament, at a good economy rate of 6.26 once again. Rasool is another good option they can go for, he picked up five wickets during the tournament at a mean economy rate of 5.95.

CSK can't get a better new-ball bowler than Umesh Yadav

After acquiring their middle-order batsman and an off-spinner, the next important asset they need is an Indian pacer who can pick up wickets inside the powerplay. CSK have always banked on experience and there is only one such experienced Indian new-ball specialist available in the auction this year -- Umesh Yadav.

Among pacers who have bowled at least 30 overs inside the powerplay since IPL 2018, Umesh's strike-rate of 18.67 is the second best. He has picked up the third-most number of powerplay wickets (18) during this period and he has a decent economy rate of 7.62 to go with that as well.

CSK won't be the only franchise after Umesh though. They will have to save a significant amount to acquire the likes of Ali or Maxwell. In case they do not have enough budget left to buy Umesh, the yellow army can look at young pacers like Tushar Deshpande and Yarra Prithviraj.

Deshpande played five matches for Delhi Capitals last season and picked up three wickets. He turned out to be a bit expensive, though, as he lacked control over his line and length. However, he has pace and thus, with a little work, he can be a good asset for any T20 side.

Prithviraj was picked as a replacement for an injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar in IPL 2020. Previously, he played two matches for Kolkata Knight Riders in 2019 and picked up a wicket as well. Like Deshpande, he turned out to be expensive too but the 22-year-old has the ability to swing the new-ball both ways and has that left-arm angle too, which will give CSK's bowling unit a much-needed variety.

An Indian middle-order power hitter will be on CSK's wishlist as well

Baroda's Vishnu Solanki and Tamil Nadu's Shahrukh Khan showed exceptional finishing ability in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last month. Solanki amassed 267 runs during the tournament at an average of 53.40 and strike-rate of 128.36. His knock of 71* off just 46 deliveries in the quarterfinal against Haryana was delightful to watch. He has a good range of shots and power, which will help him to succeed in the IPL.

Shahrukh got a limited number of opportunities to show his batting skills in a top heavy Tamil Nadu lineup. But he used his chances to good effect. In four innings during the tournament, Shahrukh scored 88 runs at a massive strike-rate of 220 and he remained unbeaten on three occasions as well.

Another option CSK can look at during the auction is Shivam Dube. His big-hitting ability is no mystery and he had a good Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy season too. Dube scored 161 runs during the season, at an excellent average of 40.25 and a good strike-rate of 138.79 as well.

CSK can acquire Piyush Chawla at a lower-price

The Super Kings wanted an Indian leg-spinner in their side badly and hence, they bought Piyush Chawla ahead of IPL 2020 and that too, for a whopping sum of INR 6.8 crores. He didn't have a good outing in the UAE and was released from the squad last month. However, it doesn't look like CSK are going to let him go. He can still be a good asset to have for their home games.

They probably realized that they overspent on Chawla last year and hence, they are looking to get him at a lower price this season. Most teams have an Indian leg-spinner in their ranks and hence, his demand won't be that high in the Auction. CSK should rather get him very cheap. Even if they don't, they can look at Midhun Sudhesan, who replaced Amit Mishra at Delhi Capitals last season, or Pardeep Sahu.

(Prasenjit Dey is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @CricPrasen. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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