Before the start of the Indian Premier League, Chennai Super Kings was subject to ridicule, not for off-field transgressions but for the average age of their squad.

In the auctions, they decided to put their faith on building a senior core group. Soon enough, “dad’s army” jokes flooded the social media space as the two-time winners stockpiled a number of players over the age of 30. Among the senior citizens were skipper MS Dhoni and vice-captain Suresh Raina too.

Rajasthan Royals, on the other hand, were widely seen as the winners of the auction. The inaugural winners, also making a comeback after a two-year ban, had made some smart moves. Along with Steve Smith, Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Tripathi, Jaydev Unadkat and Ben Stokes, they had retained the nucleus that took Rising Pune Supergiant to the final last season.

Image Credit: CSK

A lot of Chennai’s preparation was down to recreating the magic that made them the most consistent outfit in the history of the league. Despite being dealt with the crippling blow of losing Smith to a one-year ban, Rajasthan had a bankable group of performers on paper.

How the tables have turned. CSK’s seasoned campaigners have admirably chipped in with match-winning performances. Rajasthan’s group, who earned the tag of being reliable by commentators, are stuttering. On Friday, it was Shane Watson who put his hand up with a destructive century which set up his side’s handsome 64-run win at their adopted home Pune. Here are the talking points:

CSK’s adjustment

To what extent Rajasthan is missing the services of Smith is something only time will tell. Chennai, though, had to deal with a host of changes and the management is still in the process of zeroing the right mix of foreigners.

To make matters worse, Kedar Jadhav and Suresh Raina missed games because of injuries. In the post-match presser, Dhoni has almost never failed to take a tongue-in-cheek jibe at his squad resembling cricket’s retirement home. But the former Indian captain also pointed out that the superior experience of the 30-somethings could help Chennai handle pressure better.

Bravo and Jadhav, at Wankhede Stadium, gave their team the kind of rollicking last-gasp heist that has become synonymous with the Chennai brand. Ravindra Jadeja, still eight months shy of his 30th birthday, landed the telling blow in Chennai’s grand homecoming (which lasted for one game) at Chepauk.

Moving base to another city is another hurdle that Dhoni and his teammates had to cope with. Rajasthan and Chennai are among the teams who, over the years, could not be breached at home. At the end of the game, the Ranchi dasher was bullish about the crowd swelling at the Maharashtra Cricket Association as games go by.

First Gayle, now Watson

Chris Gayle and Shane Watson have crossed paths in their respectable careers in the strangest of ways. Playing in whites for their respective countries, the Australian sparked off a rivalry between the two with an ugly send off. The media lapped it up. Be it franchise cricket or for Australia and West Indies, the Watson versus Gayle battle added much spice before the contest even began.

The duo have now hung their white flannels permanently. It is Twenty20 cricket that shaped their identity, and it can be argued that they are among the finest that the IPL has produced from the foreign lot. In a hilarious turn of events, Watson and Gayle found themselves playing for the same team last year. But it had little box office value compared to say, Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds representing the same franchise many summers ago.

So, Royal Challengers Bangalore chose not to retain either of them this year. With their new teams, playing for pride and reputation, Gayle and Watson once again proved their mettle. The Jamaican had smashed a hundred a day earlier. Watson also matched the feat, making Rajasthan and Tripathi pay for a costly drop catch in the first over of the match.

Watson later disclosed that the prospect of facing off against his former team spurred him on. “There’s no doubt I had extra motivation tonight (playing against former team Rajasthan Royals). Nice to put in the performance that I did and am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had with CSK. Glad to repay them tonight.”

The message from Watson and Gayle that they are fare from done could not have been clearer. This, despite them being among the oldest lot of players. For the umpteenth time, they had turned a corner.

Rajasthan’s batting woes

The team needs to find a way to develop a pool of match winners, something that Chennai have successfully managed so far. After a flying start, Sanju Samson fell to poor dismissals in consecutive games. The move to replace D’Arcy Short with Heinrich Klaasen to counter spin was a moot point. At least Dhoni saw to that as Harbhajan Singh was dropped from the team, and Jadeja, surprisingly bowled just a solitary over.

Rahane is not able to kick on after getting to decent starts but there are encouraging signs with Stokes slowly getting into his groove. Short came in with a lofty reputation after stockpiling many a match-winning knock in the Big Bash League. The timing of the Australian making his way to the bench may have been slightly on the hasty side, especially after him getting a respectable score for the first time against Kolkata Knight Riders.

While K Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal have made an impact with the ball, the tournament is yet to see Unadkat put his experience to use.

Old or not, Chennai once seem to be on the move to fine-tune their winning formula. Rajasthan need to turn things around, and quickly. They could start by backing their players and fixing their top-order instead of pinning their hopes on Samson to turn up.