The Indian Premier League is a young man’s game. It really is. Almost everything points to that, expect the anomaly that is the Chennai Super Kings.
Most teams have one or two veterans in the mix. The idea being that they can share their wisdom and tactical insights with the younger team members. But CSK is a team of veterans, it has been a team of veterans for two seasons now and they have calmly been showing the league that value of playing the situation.
CSK are by far the oldest team in the league with an average age of 33.18. As many as eight out of 11 CSK players are above the age of 30 while the remaining three are in their late 20s. They played an unchanged XI against the young Delhi side.
Delhi, on the other hand, are hoping youthful exuberance will win the day for them. The average age of the DC side that took on CSK was 26.36… up from the 25.36 they fielded in their first game. They rested the 29-year-old Trent Boult and brought in the 36-year-old Amit Mishra.
If the track at the Feroze Shah Kotla had been less challenging, perhaps Delhi would have had a better chance because they would have been able to go all out. But because of the two-paced nature of the wicket, setting the target became a tactical minefield.
Many experts reckoned that Delhi made a mistake by electing to bat first on a track that was difficult to read. The reasoning behind that was simple: one, Delhi wouldn’t be sure of the approach they need to adopt and two, CSK would have a chance to learn and adapt after watching DC’s batsmen.
And in the end, that is what it came down to. Delhi got off to a solid start thanks to Prithvi Shaw and Shikhar Dhawan but then, as the pitch got slower, their approach reeked of uncertainty. In the end, they still ended up with just 147 – this despite being 115/2 after 15 overs. Pant’s wicket in the 16th over, bowled by the 35-year-old Dwayne Bravo, knocked the stuffing out of them.
When CSK came out to bat, they knew what they had to do. The players, grizzled veterans all, have been in such situations so many times that nothing intimidates them anymore. They set off with one simple plan – to bring the required run-rate down to a run-a-ball as quickly as possible.
They lost Ambati Rayudu early but then Shane Watson and Suresh Raina put together a rapid partnership to put their side in control. When Rayudu was dismissed, the score was 21/1 after 2.4 overs. By the times Watson was dismissed exactly four overs later, CSK had sped away to 73/2.
They took full advantage of the Powerplay overs knowing that it would only get tougher later on. Watson’s knock of 44 (26 balls) was crucial in that sense as was Suresh Raina 30 off 16 balls. They took the risks so that the batsmen coming after them didn’t need to.
Once the required run-rate was down to 6, Kedar Jadhav and Mahendra Singh Dhoni just knocked the ball around. Jadhav scored 27 off 34 before being dismissed while Dhoni ended up with an unbeaten 32 off 35 balls. Their strike-rates were below 100 but it got the job done.
Smartest, if not fastest
For Delhi, this match will be part of the learning process and in the T20 space, there is no better team than CSK to learn learn. This is a team that plans and plans and plans. They have plans for every situation. After the first game, CSK skipper Dhoni had mentioned how they have already told each player in the squad of the scenarios that they will play in and the role they are expected to perform.
“As we proved last season, age is just a number. Whenever people talk about CSK, they always bring in the age factor,” said Bravo after the game. “We are not 60 years old, we are 35... 30... 32... we are still young and we look after our bodies. And we have a lot of experience. No matter what you just can’t beat experience. In any sport, in any tournament, you just can’t beat experience.
Bravo added: “We know we are not the fastest team, we play within ourselves, we know our strengths and we know our weaknesses. We play smart and are well led by the best captain in the world. And we keep reminding ourselves that we are not the fastest but we can be the smartest.”
The second game, once again, showed their clarity of thought. CSK can be beaten – but for that you need to comprehensively outplay them because one almost never will manage to out-think them.
Asked about which areas he thinks CSK can improve in, Dhoni said: “Losing Ngidi at the start was a big blow, because he was the quickest, but other than that we are well-covered in all the areas. I don’t think we will be a very good fielding side and that is something we have to accept, but we can certainly be a safe fielding side - we need to work on that. As a captain, you don’t want the XI to push too hard and get injured during the course of the tournament. We will be bleeding a few runs but if they can use their experience with bat and ball, it will work out for us. We haven’t seen a lot of death overs yet and that could be something we need to work on.”
As always, Dhoni’s words show how CSK are thinking ahead, plotting to beat their next opponent with the deadly mix of class, tactics and experience.