What makes Chennai Super Kings click?
Some might say it is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Others might point to the support they have from the fans. Still more might look at the various role players they have gathered. Some might put it down to maturity. But perhaps the important attribute is faith; faith in their system; faith in their abilities; faith in themselves.
Coming into Qualifier 2, Chennai Super Kings had lost five of their last seven matches. Delhi Capitals, on the other hand, had won five of their last seven and 8 of their last 10. But almost no one was prepared to bet against the veterans from CSK — on social media, in reditt forums… there was a belief that CSK and Dhoni would find a way to pull through. Some might even call it faith.
DC would have chosen to avoid that buzz. They had had a brilliant season. They were coming together as they had never before. The youngsters were stepping up at just the right time… they were learning and they were getting better.
They had lost to CSK twice this season though — the only team that had managed to beat them in both legs. And if anyone would squeeze any advantage out of that it would be Dhoni.
The toss saw CSK decide to bowl first. A decision that DC had no problems with since they wanted to bat first anyway. The innings just didn’t turn out as they wanted. The Delhi unit had a lot of left-handers and CSK had Harbhajan Singh.
After Shardul Thakur was taken to the cleaners in his first and only over he bowled in the match, Dhoni turned to the veteran off-spinner — a man who was considered surplus to requirements in other places. The 38-year-old started off well and claimed the vital wicket of Shikhar Dhawan in the Powerplay.
A crucial wicket because not only was Dhawan Delhi’s most experienced player — but he was also probably the only one who would have successfully pushed back against that mental pressure that Dhoni so often applies on the opposition.
Perhaps another measure of faith is Harbhajan’s performance — he is currently taking a wicket every 15 deliveries in IPL 2019, the best strike rate he’s recorded since the first ever IPL season back in 2008. Who would have imagined this at the start of the season?
He delivered another wonderful spell. Syncing with and understanding what Dhoni wanted from him, slowing the innings down and letting scoreboard pressure pile up. Ravindra Jadeja’s first few overs did the same.
At the start of the season, Dhoni talked about how they were not going to be great in the field but they wanted to be a safe fielding side. It was a compromise they were prepared to make because they had a plan. It wasn’t a very conventional plan — as in 2018, they were going to go against the grain once again — but they had faith in the plan.
Then, as the innings was winding down, Dwayne Bravo came up with a brilliant spell [4-0-19-2]. Rishabh Pant was looking to break loose at this point but his many variations kept the left-hander on a leash. DC ended up with 147 in their 20 overs.
DC needed some early wickets to make a game of this. And given CSK’s numbers in the Powerplay, they would have felt they had a chance. Super Kings had lost the most wickets (29), had the lowest average (19.38), poorest run rate (6.24) and most frequent balls per dismissal (18.62) in the first six overs this IPL.
But on this day, Faf du Plessis and Shane Watson found a way. There was almost a terrible mix-up early on with both batsmen running in the same direction. They survived, DC didn’t.
With Watson struggling to get his timing right, Du Plessis decided to take on the bowling. At the end of the Powerplay overs, the South African had scored 37 off CSK’s 42 runs. But perhaps more importantly, they hadn’t lost a wicket.
Then, as Du Plessis was dismissed, Watson suddenly found his touch. Shane Watson scored 18 runs off the first 20 balls he faced. Off the next 11, he made 32 at a SR of 290.91. It was a sudden explosion that knocked the stuffing out of DC. There was no coming back from it. The equation was reduced to less than a run-a-ball.
At the end of the game, Watson once again spoke about faith.
“The faith CSK continue to show in me...Yes, it’s been a challenging time for me this IPL. It’s nice it worked out for us tonight, the mix up went our way. Very grateful for the faith CSK have shown in not just me, but all the players are grateful,” said Watson after the win.
“He’s [Dhoni] an amazing person. He always has the faith in the people all the way through. It’s an honour to be playing with MS and I have learnt a lot from him.”
Perhaps this is what makes CSK special. They came into the season with a specific plan in mind and simply stuck to it throughout with a calmness that has long become Dhoni’s trademark. They don’t panic. They stick to the process. They make allowances for bad seasons for bad runs. And trust that it will work eventually. So far it has.
They say faith can move mountains. In this case, it has got CSK to the finals once again. And against the mighty Mumbai Indians, they will need it more than ever.