‘Old’ Perennial Champs CSK Are Back & There’s No Stopping Them
The slickest of clairvoyants had barely given the Chennai Super Kings a chance before the start of IPL 2018.
“Chennai Super Kings are back and the IPL gets more energy from its return than the team in itself,” a passionate fan and the co-founder of the Whistle Podu Army, Prabhu Damodaran, had told the author in an exquisite chat before the IPL season began.
Almost 51 days later, they stand within touching distance of the podium and quite a few are surprised. The slickest of clairvoyants had barely given the Chennai Super Kings a chance. After all they were led by a captain whose T20 record was suspect and the team as such was “old”.
A team which had made the play-offs in every single season they had played in had apparently messed up at the auctions, going after a few trusted players, most of them ex-CSKians. The two year hiatus had rusted out their brains said some.
Yet, from the moment Deepak Chahar, Chennai's own Joginder Sharma, strolled in to beat Rohit Sharma, the captain of the defending champions no less, thrice in a row off the first three balls of the season, the fans knew CSK was back.
When Faf du Plessis hammered Bhuvneshwar Kumar straight down the ground to take them to the finals of the IPL, the fans were overjoyed, ecstatic, almost euphoric. Were they surprised? Hell no. Were the critics surprised? No way
The ‘Old’ Wine in ‘New’ Bottle Formula
From Dwyane Bravo to Ambati Rayudu to Sam Billings to Lungi Ngidi to Ravindra Jadeja to Faf du Plessis to that man, MS Dhoni, everyone had stood up for the team at one point or another. Yes, age-wise, they were “old”. Old to not fit into the T20 category. Old to not be considered the swiftest on the field. Yet, they caught well, bowled well and batted as a unit.
Their bowling, which was considered a weak point, impressed, particularly the manner in which they dictated in the powerplay overs. They weren’t the heftiest scorers in the powerplay overs, but they knew their game plan as well as Google maps.
The openers would set the platform, the middle-order would just carry on. Chennai scored an average of 48.12 runs in the first six overs (stats until May 18), nowhere near the best but they lost just one wicket on an average in these crucial six overs, the best among all teams. To top it all, they conceded just 45.08 runs on an average as a bowling unit in the powerplay overs, the second best among all teams and to go alongwith it, picked up 1.42 wickets on an average.
They were shrewd with the ball, Dhoni managing his resources with the authority of a King who had won several battles. If he faltered, it was only because his men let him down, not because he had made a wrong decision. This was old wine in a new bottle, yet the taste and feel remained intact. This was Chennai Super Kings, with an uncelebrated group of T20 players leading the way.
They lost Mitchell Santner, lost their home ground and found their star performer and No.3 batsman, Suresh Raina, woefully out of touch. But they won and kept winning.
Dhoni’s Tactical Brilliance
Dwyane Bravo wrestled out a momentum-oozing win in their tournament opener and MS Dhoni regained his magic touch with a scintillating finish against Royal Challengers Bangalore, chasing down a 200+ score. When they both failed, Faf du Plessis stepped up to take them over the line and into the finals.
Dhoni's tactical nous and brilliance as a skipper can be understood from the manner in which he read the conditions, read the opposition and managed his troops to counter their strengths. Against Kings XI Punjab, in a game after Chennai had already qualified, Dhoni unveiled what could be a revolutionary move in T20 captaincy - the Chaos Theory. With the Punjab seamers wrecking havoc, Dhoni sent in Harbhajan Singh at 5 and Deepak Chahar at 6, shielding himself, Jadeja and Bravo.
“If you see their bowlers, they were getting it to swing quite a bit,” Dhoni explained after the match. “In a game like this you want to take a lot of wickets while it is swinging. So with Bhajji and Chahar going in - it creates a bit of chaos. With proper batsmen the bowlers are consistent, somehow to lower order players they try the bouncers, offcutters, etc.”
The move not only caught Kings XI off-guard but gave the likes of Chahar and Harbhajan some much needed confidence boost before the play-offs. He persisted with the theory when he separated the successful opening pairing of Ambati Rayudu and Shane Watson for the qualifier.
du Plessis was asked to open with Watson with Chennai staring at a measly target of 140. The theory was simple. Even if Sunrisers’ bowlers did dominate, their best batsmen and domineering finisher would come in at 4 and 5. It was intimidating and though it wasn't Rayudu or himself who pulled the team out from a difficult situation, Dhoni had back-ups everywhere.
On Sunday, as they stroll out to face the Sunrises yet again, they will know they have the upper hand.
3 out of 3 wins against them aside, Chennai have a man who hates losing leading them. If proving detractors wrong could make a career, Dhoni’s was a strong example.
They might still be a group of “old men”, not the kind with the walking stick, but the one with baseball clubs ready to smash to smithereens the general consensus surrounding them. The perennial champions are back and this time there is no stopping them.
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