When the Indian Premier League gets underway with teams playing in neutral venues, Chennai Super Kings might be at the top of the list of teams most likely to be affected by that move. MS Dhoni and Co have built their stellar record in the tournament over the years on the back of a strong home record, in conditions where the former Indian captain knows perfectly well how to use his resources. Sure, their comeback in 2018 played out majorly in Pune, but their struggles in UAE were a reminder that a) their squad was built to succeed in Indian conditions b) their ageing and rusty contingent was no longer just a source for social media banter, it was a real on-field problem.
The result was absence from playoffs for the first time in their history, and only Rajasthan Royals late implosion prevented CSK from finishing last, a place they were destined for most part of IPL 2020.
And here we are, a few months later, looking at whether MS Dhoni can once again inspire a squad that does not scream “super” on paper.
Squad for IPL 2021
CSK squad for IPL 2021
|Suresh Raina||Deepak Chahar||MS Dhoni||Dwayne Bravo|
|Ambati Rayudu||KM Asif||N Jagadeesan||Mitchell Santner|
|Faf du Plessis||Imran Tahir||Ravindra Jadeja|
|Ruturaj Gaikwad||Karn Sharma||Sam Curran|
|Robin Uthappa (trade)||Lungi Ngidi||K Gowtham|
|Cheteshwar Pujara||Shardul Thakur||Moeen Ali|
|C Hari Nishaanth||M Harisankar Reddy||K Bhagat Verma|
|R Sai Kishore|
| Jason Behrendorff|
Players signed by CSK at auction
|Krishnappa Gowtham||All-Rounder||Rs 92500000|
|Moeen Ali||All-Rounder||Rs 70000000|
|Cheteshwar Pujara||Batsman||Rs 5000000|
|K.Bhagath Varma||All-Rounder||Rs 2000000|
|C Hari Nishaanth||Batsman||Rs 2000000|
|M. Harisankar Reddy||Bowler||Rs 2000000|
Even when it became evident that a mega auction was not happening before IPL 2021, you would have forgiven the CSK fan-base for hoping their franchise goes for a overhaul. MS Dhoni had even hinted at that towards the end of the 2020 season. It was desperately needed. But instead, among the players that the franchise let go are a batsman who was already out of the team’s plans, an off-spinner who did not play the entire season, an overseas opener who had retired. Only Piyush Chawla’s release is from the actual core of the playing XI from the business end of last season.
And so, reports of a rebuild proved to be greatly exaggerated.
They have however made some smart signings to improve their first XI. In Moeen, they have a much-needed power-hitting floater in their lineup that desperately struggled to shift gears. Gowtham too will play a significant role with his finger-spin and big-hitting, two areas CSK are weak at. Robin Uthappa was traded in from Rajasthan Royals and could play a crucial role if Suresh Raina is unable to shake his rustiness away.
Whether the changes to the squad are substantial enough to provide Dhoni’s men a spark in 2021 remains to be seen.
The CSK franchise, like they are on the field, are not known to make too many changes off it either and the coaching contingent bears a familiar look.
- Stephen Fleming: Head coach
- Michael Hussey: Batting coach
- L Balaji: Bowling coach
- Eric Simmons: Bowling consultant
- Rajiv Kumar: Fielding coach
- Tommy Simsek: Physio
- Gregory King: Trainer
India’s T20 World Cup plans
A sidetrack during IPL 2021 is going to be seeing how India’s T20 World Cup squad probables / hopefuls / outsiders perform.
- From a time when CSK had more than a few members in the national set-up across formats, as things stand only Jadeja is a certainty in India’s plans. He is, however, making a comeback from a lengthy injury layoff and CSK as well as the Indian management will be hoping he hits the ground running. He did not have the best of IPL 2020 with the ball, and it is an area he’d seek to improve.
- If Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are fit, it is unlikely that both Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur will feature together in India’s plans but the latter has definitely impressed the Indian captain in recent times and will be hoping to keep his name in the mix for the first XI.
The Big Question
Let’s forget the age issue for a moment. CSK’s batting is going to heavily depend on two batsmen who barely play any cricket outside the IPL these days. Can Dhoni and Raina really shake off their rust quickly enough so that CSK don’t fall behind in the tournament early? Are a few practice sessions enough to find the hitting zone? Dhoni admitted that was not easy last time, so what has changed this season? If CSK’s two main men don’t fire with the bat, the team’s problems are likely to continue in 2021.
Most Valuable Player
In a team of ageing stars, Sam Curran’s freshness is unmistakable. Arguably the team’s biggest find of 2020 (no arguments if not for Ruturaj Gaikwad’s late purple patch), Curran comes into IPL on the back of a sensational innings for England in the final ODI, a reminder of what he is capable of with the bat. If CSK trust him with more responsibility, he could go on to have another impressive all-round season.
Uncapped player to look out for
It has to be Gaikwad. So much was made about Dhoni’s “spark” comment last season, and perhaps rightly so. The opener, when he got going in the final stages of the tournament, showed he has the fire to light up a dull CSK batting order. With the confidence restored at the end of IPL 2020, the new season will be a chance to show he is the future.
CSK's fixtures for IPL 2021
Ideal first XI
Faf du Plessis, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Suresh Raina, Moeen Ali, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Sam Curran, Dwayne Bravo, Krishnappa Gowtham, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar
CSK in IPL over the years
|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 final|