When the players gathered in Chennai last month, MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina announced their decisions to retire from international cricket. A few days after reaching the UAE, multiple members of the team’s contingent tested positive for the coronavirus and that included two players. Later, Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh announced their decisions to pull out of the tournament. No replacements have been sought yet for either of them.
But, the fact remains that, CSK remain one of the favourites to reach the playoffs: simply because, that’s what they do. In every season they have been part of the league, the team has reached the knockout stages and never finished lower than fourth.
CSK's record over the years in IPL
|Season||League stage finish||Playoff result|
|IPL 2008||3rd||Lost in the final|
|IPL 2009||2nd||Lost in the semi-final|
|IPL 2011||2nd out of 10||Champions|
|IPL 2012||4th out of 9||Lost in the final|
|IPL 2013||1st out of 9||Lost in the final|
|IPL 2014||3rd||Won in Eliminator, Lost in Qualifier 2|
|IPL 2019||2nd||Lost in the final|
And having reached the finals in both the seasons since their return to the league, it will take a brave person to predict CSK not reaching the final stages once again this season. The squad, as it is well established now, is brimming with experience (read: packed with 30-plus-year-old cricketers) and the auction did not exactly change that. With 31-year-old Piyush Chawla brought in for Rs 6.75 crore, CSK added another spinner to their ranks. They have been smart recruiters over the years in IPL and have always banked on playing to their home advantage at Chepauk — the venues in UAE might just end up suiting them to the T in that sense. R Sai Kishore, Sam Curran, Josh Hazlewood were the other additions to the squad.
CSK's squad for IPL 2020
|Ruturaj Gaikwad||Lungi Ngidi||Dwayne Bravo||MS Dhoni|
|Faf du Plessis||Deepak Chahar||Ravindra Jadeja||N Jagadeesan|
|Shane Watson||Karn Sharma||Mitchell Santner|
|Ambati Rayudu||Imran Tahir||Sam Curran|
|M Vijay||Shardul Thakur|
|Kedar Jadhav||Monu Kumar|
|R. Sai Kishore|
Players in action post lockdown
Bravo, Santner and Tahir were the three CSK players who had game time at the Caribbean Premier League and the trio had decent outings. Bravo became the founding member of the 500-wicket club in T20 cricket during the course of the event as his side Trinbago Knight Riders stormed to the title without losing a match. A look at his strike rate will make your jaw drop (283) but in a team that dominated with the bat, he scored just 17 runs in his three outings. His tally of nine wickets in nine innings came at a strike rate of 21 and an economy rate of 7.5. He did not bowl in the final because of a niggle.
Playing for Guyana Amazon Warriors, Tahir continued to defy his age and turned up with good spells. The 41-year-old finished with 15 wickets at an ER of 5.8 and SR of 16.4 in nine matches. He was the third-highest wicket-taker of the event.
Playing in his first CPL, Santner had a good all-round outing even if his side Barbados Tridents struggled. In eight matches, Santner scored 145 runs at a SR of 115.1 while his six wickets came at a SR of 24.7 and ER of 5.6.
Over in England, Curran was in and out of both the red-ball and white-ball teams but did alright when called up on by his side. A three-wicket haul in a thrilling second ODI win against Australia was the highlight for him and showed his ability to chip in with crucial wickets under pressure. For Australia, Hazlewood was impressive in the three ODIs and one T20I he played, returning with five wickets overall including a man-of-the-match performance. CSK loves its Australian medium-pacers and Hazlewood might be a shrewd acquisition.
Ngidi and du Plessis were in action in the unique 3TC Solidarity Cup (three teams in one match) that took place in South Africa. The former South Africa captain struck a quickfire 20-odd while Ngidi, who had been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, also had some match practice.
“Spin has been good for us,” coach Stephen Fleming had said after the auction, explaining why the went big on Chawla. His experience in the IPL is significant and having a tally of 150 wickets in 157 matches is a representation of his value as a spinner. That’s where CSK’s strength lies and with names like Tahir, Jadeja, Santner, Karn Sharma to go with the impressive Sai Kishore (who had a superb Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 last season) and Chawla, CSK have no dearth of spinners.
In addition, playing Chawla ahead of Tahir could open up an extra overseas player slot for CSK that could go to Curran or Hazlewood. As always, CSK have given themselves with enough options.
But, in that collection, one obvious miss is a right-arm finger spinner. With Harbhajan missing and no Raina as well to chip in, Dhoni might turn to Jadhav more than he has in the past. Finger spinners have shown their utility in the slow pitches that were seen in CPL.
The other strength of course is the experience in their squad. Say what you want about the ages, but CSK’s squad is brimming with match-winners who have been there and done that. In a season where there is going to be a lot of unknowns, CSK’s stability and know-how might prove crucial.
And finally, of course, Dhoni. With all his energy dedicated to CSK now, will we see Dhoni back to his best with the bat as we saw last season? There has been so much talk last few months about how well Dhoni has struck the ball in practice. CSK (and his legion of fans) will hope to see that translate into matches because he is, quite simply, the talisman for this lineup.
CSK were repeatedly bailed out by Dhoni’s batting in the 2019 season and the rest of the squad had largely forgettable outings. It was expected that the team would strengthen the batting lineup in the auction but that did not happen — not even close, as the team picked up only bowlers (and an all-rounder in Curran). Since then, Raina has also withdrawn. How will the batting lineup look like when the tournament starts is anyone’s guess at the moment, but it is expected that Vijay, Rayudu and (when he gets healthy again) Ruturaj will have the responsibility to show what they are made of.
Death bowling is an area that CSK had troubles with in the past and with Bravo not getting any younger, it is another area that could hurt the three-time champions. Chahar is far too important in the powerplay for the side but he will have to share the load at the death as well to stem the flow of runs.
And, finally, have they gone one season too far in trusting the ‘Dad’s Army’ to deliver the goods? That remains to be seen too.
It would be naive to doubt their squad’s quality given their past record, but one cannot help but wonder if the men in yellow are pushing the ceiling when it comes to their batsmen, especially. Do the likes of Rayudu, Jadhav and, perhaps, Vijay have it in them to step up?
Most Valuable Player
Former India cricketer (have you gotten used to that) Dhoni will have to be at his very best during the tournament in all his three roles. As captain, he is indispensable. As a batsman, he has been CSK’s saviour lately. As the wicketkeeper, there is simply no one better than the 39-year-old.
Potential breakout star
Apart from Dhoni’s surreal calm, the reason for CSK not pressing the panic button after Raina’s withdrawal could well be the trust they have in Ruturaj to have a breakthrough season. Known to be a fluent striker of the ball, the 23-year-old from Maharashtra has a first-class best of 187* and a T20 high score of 82* to his name. In the shortest format, he has six fifties in 28 innings and goes at a SR of 135. The India A batsman has been touted as one to watch for the future but his time might be here and now.
CSK fixtures for IPL 2020
|MI vs CSK||19 Sep, Sat (1930)||Abu Dhabi|
|RR vs CSK||22 Sep, Tue (1930)||Sharjah|
|CSK vs DC||25 Sep, Fri (1930)||Dubai|
|CSK vs SRH||2 Oct, Fri (1930)||Dubai|
|KXIP vs CSK||4 Oct, Sun (1930)||Dubai|
|KKR vs CSK||7 Oct, Wed (1930)||Abu Dhabi|
|CSK vs RCB||10 Oct, Sat (1930)||Dubai|
|SRH vs CSK||13 Oct, Tue (1930)||Dubai|
|DC vs CSK||17 Oct, Sat (1930)||Sharjah|
|CSK vs RR||19 Oct, Mon (1930)||Abu Dhabi|
|CSK vs MI||23 Oct, Fri (1930)||Sharjah|
|RCB vs CSK||25 Oct, Sun (1530)||Dubai|
|CSK vs KKR||29 Oct, Thu (1930)||Dubai|
|CSK vs KXIP||1 Nov, Sun (1530)||Abu Dhabi|
Will CSK keep up their stunning 100% record of reaching playoffs? Or is this the season the bubble finally bursts? Let us know your thoughts by tweeting to us @thefield_in.