There had been no surprise when Chennai Super Kings announced their retention list ahead of the auctions. They chose Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali, their two key all-rounders, particularly in 2021; Ruturaj Gaikwad, last season’s Orange Cap winner; and MS Dhoni, their captain.
Dhoni and CSK go back a long way. Over the years, Dhoni has been terrific in his roles on either side of the stumps. His numbers – 4,172 runs, strike rate 138, 140 dismissals. He has also led them to four titles as well as to the Playoffs in every season barring one. The relationship between man and team is, however, beyond the scope of the piece.
The other name synonymous to CSK over the years, Suresh Raina, was not as fortunate. A true titan of the tournament, chinna thala Raina went unsold at the auctions. He had pulled out of the 2020 edition and had a below-par season in 2021. At the same time, Moeen batted brilliantly up the order and contributed with the ball.
That effectively sealed the fate of Raina, who lost out to Robin Uthappa. Leaving out someone of Raina’s stature would have been a bold decision for most sides. For CSK, it was a departure from tradition, for they have perennially stuck to the same core, auction after auction.
Even here, Chennai mostly stuck to their old guard. They splurged Rs 14 crore on Deepak Chahar, making him the second-most expensive acquisition of the auctions, after Ishan Kishan. That amount is Rs 2 crore more than what CSK will pay Dhoni, or Mumbai Indians will pay Jasprit Bumrah.
They got Ambati Rayudu (at Rs 6.75 crore, too), one of seven men to strike at over 150 in all of IPL 2021. They also acquired Uthappa and bought back Dwayne Bravo, who had lit up the IPL immediately after his CPL stint last season. Bravo has recently announced his second retirement from international cricket, but when have retirement or age prevented CSK from backing cricketers they know?
Of the 11 men who played in the 2021 final, CSK have eight on their roster. However, they had to forego Faf du Plessis, Josh Hazlewood, and Shardul Thakur, three of last season’s stars.
They got Devon Conway and Adam Milne to fill up the first two spots. Conway is no du Plessis, but at 30, he is younger, has a strike rate of 139 in a 20-match T20 International career. Like Uthappa and Rayudu, he can also keep wickets, adding an extra dimension.
Milne, while probably not as devastating as Hazlewood, is certainly quicker. He has also played for Royal Challengers Bangalore and, in the last year, for Mumbai Indians.
If Bravo does not play all matches, Chennai have the provision of drafting in Chris Jordan or Dwaine Pretorius or – depending on the pitch – Mitchell Santner. Essentially, they have managed to recreate, or at least replicate, almost the entire XI that won the last year’s final.
And that was no ordinary team. The brigade of all-rounders, in particular – Jadeja, Moeen, Bravo, Chahar – added depth to both batting and bowling.
Chennai have not found a replacement for that 11th role from the final, of Thakur.
Neither Thakur nor Chahar needed to contribute with bat in 2021, so may argue that one of them can be replaced by a bowler even if it is rank tail-ender. Unfortunately, they have not found an Indian bowler to match Thakur’s experience or skills, either. The main back-up bowlers – Jordan, Santner, Maheesh Theekshana – are all overseas cricketers.
Of course, they may tweak elsewhere to get an overseas bowler in. For that, they have to leave out Conway for one of C Hari Nishaanth and N Jagadeesan, the local stars. However, given that both Hari Nishaanth and Jagadeesan strike at under 125, the batting inside the Powerplay overs is bound to suffer.
Who, then, can become the 11th cricketer of the side, preferably an Indian seamer? KM Asif, a medium pacer who played for Chennai Super Kings in 2018, never lived up to his early promise. At this level, Tushar Deshpande’s pace never compensated for his indisciplined bowling. And while Shivam Dube bowls, his primary skill remains batting.
At this point, the likeliest option seems to be Rajvardhan Hangargekar, one of India’s stars in their recent triumphant Under-19 World Cup campaign. An accurate medium-pacer, he is also a prolific hitter, boasting a strike rate of 184 in Under-19 ODIs.
Some teams might not have thrust Hangargekar into deep water right away, but given that it is Chennai, they would probably want to do exactly that.
Chennai Super Kings likely starting XI: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Devon Conway, Moeen Ali, Robin Uthappa, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Deepak Chahar, Adam Milne.
Chennai Super Kings full squad: MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ambati Rayudu (wk), Devon Conway (wk), N Jagadeesan (wk), Robin Uthappa (wk), Moeen Ali, Ravindra Jadeja, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Subhranshu Senapati, C Hari Nishaanth, Deepak Chahar, KM Asif, Tushar Deshpande, Maheesh Theekshana, Simarjeet Singh, Mukesh Choudhary, Dwayne Bravo, Shivam Dube, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Dwaine Pretorius, Mitchell Santner, Adam Milne, Prashant Solanki, Chris Jordan, Bhagath Varma.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor of CricketNews by day and biryani demolisher at night. He is the co-author of Sachin and Azhar at Cape Town, and tweets @ovshake42.)