Chennai Super Kings (CSK) have been in a mess to start this season. Their pre-season campaign wasn’t the best. They had COVID-19 casualties, a couple of their senior-most players decided to skip the entire season due to personal reasons and now, they have two losses in three games.
Make no mistake, two losses in three games is no big deal. There are teams who’ve come back from five losses in a row and made it to the top four. Hell, there are teams who’ve lost five out of their first six games and went on to win the IPL title.
However, CSK’s two losses look deflating, especially after their win over Mumbai Indians (MI) in the season opener. In the last two games, it seemed like they were never in the contest. Rajasthan Royals (RR) plundered 216 and CSK just took off too late in the chase. Delhi Capitals (DC) scored 175 and it seemed like CSK never made an effort to get anywhere close to that total. It resulted in the third-largest defeat in terms of runs for them in the history of the IPL.
Over the last couple of years, CSK have found a way to emerge out on top. They have found a way to win. They have found solutions instantly for their problems. However, this year looks different. They seem to be in a big muddle which is unusual given the way MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming operate.
You don’t associate CSK with the word ‘mess’. Despite being known as the ‘Dad’s Army’ over the last couple of seasons, CSK have had their things sorted. Dhoni just binds the team together. He has enough resources around him to complete his team and you just tend to think that the mastermind that he is, he will just get things going by hook or crook.
But that doesn’t look like the case this year. Yes, he doesn’t have two of his most experienced players in Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh around as they pulled out of the entire season. But it’s strange that CSK haven’t asked for any replacements for them so far.
Moreover, it’s not just about the veteran duo’s absence. CSK have quite a few problems. First things first, they just seem to lack intent. They had a couple of big chases up against them. Yet, there was absolutely no intent. Their batting order, team combination, everything seems to be in a big mess.
Their problems start right at the top. And it’s been an issue for a while now. By some distance, CSK have been the worst team batting in the powerplay since the start of the 2019. Their run rate of 6.51 in the first six overs is 1.3 behind the second-worst team, that is Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR).
CSK have the lowest powerplay run-rate since 2019, scoring at a significantly lower rate than the next best team.
— Stat Doctor🩺 (@stat_doctor) September 25, 2020
Shane Watson is the only player who has played all games since 2019 as an opener for CSK. And his form has fluctuated badly. Faf du Plessis has been in and out of the side and this year, he is batting at 3. Ambati Rayudu has been up and down as well and his form hasn’t been the best either. In fact, he has a strike-rate of 60.71 as an opener since 2019. Murali Vijay has played four games as well and he is a pale shadow of his old self.
“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,” Dhoni said in the post-match presentation after CSK’s defeat to Delhi. And he is spot on. There is no impetus at the top for CSK.
However, it is not only at the top, CSK’s batting order seems to be a huge muddle. Dhoni just doesn’t want to bat above 6 or 7. He feels he needs more game time. du Plessis is the only one who has looked in good touch and is the only one driving this batting line-up. He has been by far the best batsman in these three games.
Rayudu missed the last couple of games due to injury. The latter started this season with a match-winning knock and shrugged off his poor form from last season. His absence has hurt CSK a lot. And his return will be a massive boost in the next game.
Also Read: IPL 2020: RR vs CSK – In defense of MS Dhoni
CSK had Ruturaj Gaikwad batting at 4 and 5 in the absence of Rayudu. However, he is not someone who can bat in the middle. Before this IPL started, Gaikwad played 28 T20 games in his career (all of them in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament) and opened the batting in 27. In fact, since 2017, he has scored the fourth-most runs as an opener in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
He has amassed 791 runs at an average of 32.96 and a strike-rate of 134.98 which is more than each of CSK’s openers. Yes, there is a big difference in the domestic T20 competition and the IPL. But Gaikwad looks a promising prospect and can be backed at the top.
Then comes the question of Kedar Jadhav. He has got a couple of 20s in the last two games but again, in a run chase where he has come in with more than 10-12 runs an over needed, he is striking at 129.72.
Sam Curran has floated around and has got a couple of good cameos out and that’s been the only good sign in CSK’s middle-order in the last two games. Ravindra Jadeja’s batting in T20 cricket has fallen off the cliff over the last couple of seasons too.
While CSK’s batting has been in a mess, their bowling seems more or less sorted. They have Deepak Chahar as their premier Indian pacer. Lungi Ngidi started this season but now, they have Josh Hazlewood. Piyush Chawla is their first-choice leg-spinner. Jadeja and Curran round up the bowling attack.
But they lack a wicket-taker. Remember, last year’s Purple Cap winner Imran Tahir is sitting on the bench. But with CSK wanting to mask their batting inexperience with a couple of overseas batsmen and Curran filling in for Dwayne Bravo who is recovering from a knee injury and opting to play an overseas pacer, Tahir has to sit out.
Also, it is very unlike CSK to go in with just five bowling options. Dhoni likes having options around him along with playing all-rounders in the top seven and backs his bowlers to do a bit with the bat as well. But it hasn’t been the case this year. Even in the last couple of seasons, he’s had six or seven bowling options.
Thus, CSK might just need an overhaul and they have a week’s break before their next game. “I feel the coming seven days are the best break we could have. We’ll give the guys a bit more match simulation and come back with a clearer picture as to what is the best combination, looking at how everyone is contributing,” Dhoni told in the post-match presentation.
In fact, it is their combination that they need to look at big time. They have Curran and Jadeja slotted to bat at 7 and 8 which is too low for both of them. With Rayudu returning for the next game, as Dhoni said, it gives them more stability and cushion in the batting department. That might allow them to tweak their combination a bit.
First things first, CSK need to take a call on Watson. Not only is he in the worst of forms, but he is also taking up an overseas slot as well. His inability to bowl is making it even worse. CSK’s bowling lacks bite as well. Hence, Watson could free up a slot for Tahir. Also, they need to do away with Vijay. He just seems to be a big baggage in this line-up.
They can have Gaikwad open the batting with du Plessis who has been in fine touch. Or well, they can have Curran bat at the top with Gaikwad giving him the license to go hell for leather in the powerplay and have du Plessis batting at his usual No. 3 spot with Rayudu at 4. CSK just need to find a way to use Curran better with the bat. He is too good a player to be wasted down the order or even as a pinch hitter.
Also, the three-time champions need to ask more from Jadeja and Jadhav as well. They can’t have them fiddling around in the middle-order with strike-rates in the 120s. Also, Dhoni somehow needs to convince himself to bat higher up the order. At max, he needs to bat at 5 with Jadeja and Jadhav to follow. Even that seems a touch too low for him. He is the one who needs to grab the bull by its horn and guide it.
Chahar and Chawla are no mugs with the bat and CSK don’t need that extra batsman. Hence, they can play Tahir in place of Watson which gives them an attacking spinner alongside Hazlewood or Ngidi who they can replace once Bravo returns.
Thus, the playing XI that could just fix CSK’s issues might look something like this, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Sam Curran, Faf du Plessis, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Piyush Chawla, Josh Hazlewood, Deepak Chahar, Imran Tahir.
This might just give them more balance and might just take them out of an unusual muddle they are in at the moment. CSK can’t expect players who carry baggage and play out of position every game to fire. They need to sort out their mess before it gets too late.