The 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was the worst in the league’s history for Chennai Super Kings (CSK). The three-time champions failed to make it through to the IPL playoffs for the very first time.
CSK, led by the great Mahendra Singh Dhoni, couldn’t manage to overcome their longstanding shortcomings, failing to cover up most bases with an ageing squad. The team struggled with issues around form and fitness after an extended gap for most of their players amid the coronavirus pandemic.
CSK won only six and lost eight of their 14 matches during the IPL 2020 league stage and finished seventh in the eight-team points table.
Following the end of the previous IPL campaign, there were calls for CSK to revamp their squad and start off fresh as a team. However, CSK retained their core and instead just made a few tweaks at the recent IPL auction in Chennai – the last for the ongoing three-year cycle in the league – trusting the existing group to succeed again.
One of the problems that held back CSK last year was the inconsistency of their opening combination. While Faf du Plessis managed another decent season with the bat, his partner at the top Shane Watson really failed to gain any form and rhythm.
Watson, one of the legends of IPL, decided to bid adieu to competitive cricket after CSK’s premature elimination, having made just 299 runs from 11 innings in UAE with a strike-rate of only 121.05. With Watson’s farewell leaving a massive void, CSK now have to spread the net wider in search of their next best opening combination.
And so today, we explored what could be CSK’s potential opening duos for the forthcoming IPL 2021, where Dhoni’s men begin their campaign on April 10 in Mumbai against Delhi Capitals (DC).
Five Opening Combinations Chennai Super Kings (CSK) Could Try In IPL 2021
1. Ruturaj Gaikwad-Faf du Plessis
Youngster Ruturaj Gaikwad joined veteran Faf Du Plessis at the top for CSK’s last league match in IPL 2020 and they put on 82 runs for the first wicket in the victory over Punjab Kings (PBKS).
That partnership gave a glimpse into CSK’s future as Gaikwad, the right-hand batsman from Maharashtra, made a swift transition to IPL, and helped Du Plessis bat at his usual tempo at the other end.
Gaikwad, who was plagued by a positive corona test and poor performances earlier in the tournament, finished it with three half-centuries in an overall tally of 204 runs from six matches. Gaikwad had an average of 51.00 and a strike-rate of 120.71 in IPL 2020.
Du Plessis, on the other hand, scored 449 runs, including half-centuries, at an average of 40.81 and strike-rate of 140.75.
Gaikwad’s energy and spirit combined with Du Plessis’ experience could make for a formidable opening duo for CSK in IPL 2021.
2. Sam Curran-Ruturaj Gaikwad
An option CSK trialled in the last year’s IPL was promoting England all-rounder Sam Curran to the top and placing one of Du Plessis or Watson in the middle-order.
The idea was for Curran to attack the bowling during the powerplay overs and give CSK momentum early in their innings, something they lacked due to Watson’s slow starts.
If CSK again decide to give Curran the nod as an opener and not a lower middle-order batsman, he and Gaikwad could make an interesting opening combination.
As Curran blazes his willow at the top, it wouldn’t just lengthen the CSK batting but also allow others, including Gaikwad at the other end, to play their natural games. Curran had made 186 runs at a strike-rate of 131.91 in IPL 2020.
3. Ambati Rayudu-Faf du Plessis
One of the opening combinations that CSK could try is to retain Du Plessis as an opener and re-promote Ambati Rayudu to the top of the order. Rayudu was used as a middle-order batsman last year with Suresh Raina absent to try and control a major part of CSK’s innings from overs 7-16 through his ability to play spin.
However, back in 2018 when CSK made a successful return to IPL with their third IPL title, Rayudu played brilliantly as an opening batsman. He had made 602 runs at an average of 43.00 and strike-rate of 149.75. That was Rayudu’s best IPL season in terms of consistency and explosiveness.
Rayudu’s promotion would give him his best position in the batting order and let Gaikwad boost CSK’s middle-order, where he initially played for CSK in IPL 2020. An advantage of Rayudu and Du Plessis opening is that CSK would have a level of stability at the top, as one of them can go about maximising the powerplay overs, while the other bats deep and helps make life easier for others in CSK’s batting unit.
4. Moeen Ali-Ruturaj Gaikwad
We found out recently that Moeen Ali’s best position in the CSK batting unit is in the middle-order. However, there’s a chance the team might just consider Moeen as a floater in their batting order and use him as an opener occasionally, with Gaikwad partnering him at the other end.
Against oppositions who depend on their spinners to chip in a couple of tight overs in the powerplay, Moeen can prove lethal and set CSK on their way to strong totals. If Moeen succeeds, it’ll allow young Gaikwad to bat at his prefer tempo: take time, anchor the innings.
Moeen, who was with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) until last year, has a strike-rate of 158.46 in his IPL career spanning 19 matches. He is a valuable addition to CSK, considering his useful off-spin bowling to go with some attacking batsmanship.
5. Robin Uthappa-Faf du Plessis
At his best, Ambati Rayudu could be a vital cog in CSK’s wheels. But the experienced right-hand batsman didn’t have an ideal season last year. Even though he made 359 runs at an average of 39.88, those runs came at a strike-rate of only 127.30.
If CSK decide to look past Rayudu when it comes to their first-team selection in IPL 2021, a capable replacement would be Robin Uthappa, who was with Rajasthan Royals (RR) till last year. Uthappa has struggled as a batsman in the last couple of seasons but can prove very dangerous for opposition bowlers on his day.
Uthappa will feel inspired to perform if Dhoni and the management trust him and offer him a consistent run in the playing XI at the top of the order alongside Du Plessis. The duo of an Indian and an overseas batsman will add to the problems for the opposition, who wouldn’t be able to employ their preferred match-ups against CSK.