After the lows of 2020, easily the worst season the franchise has ever fared, Chennai Super Kings would have been forgiven for making some panic changes in personnel. However, sticking to their philosophy, they made some minor changes ahead of 2021 IPL and the results were there to see. With five wins from seven matches in the first half this year, not only did the MS Dhoni-led side emerge as one of the top sides once again but also a positive NRR of +1.263 buried a lot of talks about a potential washout before the mega auction ahead of the 2022 season.
CSK faced some tough competition from Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Capitals but very few sides found a collective framework of support to do what they did in the first half of the 2021 Indian Premier League. A truckload of confidence and the innate understanding of the fact that they can afford to slack off a bit, albeit unwarranted, would keep them in good stead before MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma walk out for toss at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on September 19 - exactly a year since the Yellow Brigade beat the five-time champions to get their disastrous 2020 campaign going.
Consistency is CSK’s biggest strength. MS Dhoni marshaled the side the right way but he was also lucky that his move worked in the fashion he would have envisioned for the previous season as well. While Ravindra Jadeja, fresh from a long injury break, fired on all cylinders, his regular wicket-taking options struck in an uncanny fashion. However, it was the batting that was the biggest positive and will continue to be.
The criticism about their approach in 2020 was being too slow to begin with and unable to tee off and they corrected that in some fashion. CSK had a batting strike rate of 159.6, which was the best for any side in IPL 2021. Their boundary percentage of 64.12% is by far the best with a boundary coming in every 4.6 balls. It was possible because CSK employed the fire and calmness of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis at the top of the order. With Moeen Ali, one of the finest hitters of spin bowling, taking care of middle-over onslaught, and Jadeja emerging as the death over the beast, there is a high probability of CSK not tinkering with their plans that had reaped dividends last year.
In T20s, it doesn’t guarantee a run if the batting is not complemented by the bowling unit. And here CSK soared high. Despite playing most of their matches at the batting paradise of Wankhede, the Chennai-based side picked up a wicket in every 17.2 balls and averaged 24. It was the core of Deepak Chahar, Sam Curran, and Ravindra Jadeja who did the bulk of the job. The overall composition and how Dhoni marshalls his troupe will be the key to CSK’s success for the second part of this year.
While the current position would keep the side excited about the future, there is always a threat from the past looming over their head. In the UAE conditions, CSK couldn’t really adapt last year, leading to Stephen Fleming admitting that his side was "a little bit muddled". The pace bowling department struggled big-time and the side ended up as the third-worst bowling side of IPL 2020.
Even in the batting front, CSK had a strike rate of 133, which was the second-worst after Royal Challengers Bangalore. Only RCB had taken more balls to hit a boundary than CSK (RCB’s 7.2 as compared to CSK’s 6.3) and that is one area the side would be wary of. However, the resurrection of 2021 will be the hope they would cling to.
Josh Hazlewood, who had pulled out of the IPL 2021 citing personal reasons, is available for the second half, and that would mean Jason Behrendorff missing out. Since the start of the year, Hazlewood has averaged 16.8 in 8 matches with a solid economy of 6.6. That way, he provides MS Dhoni a very good option if the Indian pacers don’t live upto the expectations.
How do they feel about the UAE?
I don’t think it needs a retelling. They simply wouldn’t love this.
Chennai Super Kings are in second place on the points table with five wins from seven matches and are well on course to secure a place in the play-offs for the 11th time. They have a positive NRR of +1.263, which is the best among all teams, and that means a couple of good games upfront would ensure a place in the final four. Our very own Criclytics Qualification Probability meter suggests that CSK have a 97% possibility of qualifying for the play-off stages.
Best Possible XI
Ruturaj Gaikwad, Faf du Plessis, Moeen Ali, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Sam Curran, Shardul Thakur, Josh Hazlewood, Deepak Chahar