When Chennai Super Kings (CSK) shelled out INR 16.25 crore at the 2023 IPL Auction, Ben Stokes was always going to be one of the first names in the playing XI. Since the start of the season, Stokes has been part of the playing XI in two out of the three games that Chennai have played - against both Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants.
In their season opener, he walked in at No.4 and perished scoring a six-ball seven. He walked down even further down in Chennai’s second clash, at No.5, scoring eight off eight balls. If anything, he has walked in when the team has required him to keep the run-rate going or take it up a notch. In doing so, he has perished, and that’s not the problem.
The problem for Chennai right now is that they are one quality bowler short. Deepak Chahar’s hamstring injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the franchise, who were just looking like a side that was regaining their mojo after their win in Chennai the other night.
Does Stokes, the player solve any of CSK’s worries?
Had Stokes been in the setup against Mumbai, that would have presented CSK with a big problem: a problem that has to do around with the word ‘balance’. Since 2021, the all-rounder has bowled his quota of four overs in just four games, with the last of it coming in England’s summit clash against Pakistan in Melbourne.
In this year’s IPL, Stokes has bowled just once, and since then has been ruled out injured. The fact that Chennai could play both Sisanda Magala and Dwaine Pretorius while still having the luxury of playing an extra spinner, in the form of Mitchell Santner allowed them to play around with Mumbai’s batting unit.
All of this despite being one bowler short, with Chahar walking back after bowling just the one over. That begs the question, can CSK still afford to play Stokes?
In the previous clash against Mumbai, Chennai showed that they had enough batters, with Ajinkya Rahane stepping up and leaving an indelible mark. If Stokes’ continues to play, how will it hamper the Super Kings?
Playing XI (if Stokes plays): Devon Conway, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Shivam Dube, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni, Tushar Deshpande, Maheesh Theekshana, Simarjeet Singh/Akash Singh
How Chennai could line up and solve a lot of issues without Stokes?
Chennai put themselves in a worry when they picked up Stokes at that price. Yes, they wanted to get an all-rounder, but Stokes is hardly an all-rounder that would fit the franchise’s needs anymore. Stokes has bowled just 6.3 overs at the death in all T20s since 2021, but nursing an injury, it was well-known that the English all-rounder would hardly be available to bowl four overs.
Now, there is no Chahar either. That’s tied Chennai’s hands more than ever. That’s precisely why the franchise could line up without Stokes, and it would solve many of their issues.
Combination 1: Devon Conway, Moeen Ali, Dwaine Pretorius, Maheesh Theekshana
Chennai are likely to play this combination, which has a lot to do with the issues that this combination solves. In Conway, Chennai already has an opener with a rapport with Ruturaj Gaikwad. So, that’s an opening combination that Chennai would rather leave untouched.
Moeen Ali’s impetus with the bat and his off-spin are handy. That solved many of CSK’s troubles back in 2021, when they didn’t have a left-hander to take on spinners. At the death, CSK had an economy rate of 10.5, with an average of 22.2 last year. Last game, against Mumbai, CSK had an economy rate of 9.6, thanks to Pretorius and Magala. So, Pretorius then remains a must.
Theekshana is the best spinner in T20 cricket at the moment. There’s no way that Chennai will field a XI without him.
Combination 2: Devon Conway, Moeen Ali, Mitchell Santner, Maheesh Theekshana
If Chennai are playing at home in Chepauk, they could make the careful consideration of having a team filled with three overseas spin options, Ali, Mitchell Santner and Theekshana. Over the last week, Santner has proved to be more than an important commodity for the Super Kings, with his match-winning display against Lucknow, and then later against Mumbai.
In both these clashes, the left-arm spinner was tasked with a dual role, a) to pick crucial wickets and b) to stem the run-flow. He did both with some elance, picking Deepak Hooda in the second clash before removing Suryakumar Yadav and Arshad Khan against Mumbai. His guile with the ball will definitely come in handy on surfaces that aid spinners.
So, this is a combination that could be worth pondering, at home.
Combination 3: Devon Conway, Moeen Ali, Sisanda Magala, Maheesh Theekshana
Against Mumbai, Chennai handed a debut to Sisanda Magala, a pacer well-known for his expertise at the death. In all T20s since 2018 in South Africa, Magala has the most wickets at the death, where he has struck 33 times, averaging 21.5 and conceding runs at just 8.8 RPO. That is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why Chennai got him as a replacement.
On his debut, the right-arm pacer gave away 28 runs in his first two overs but after that, only conceded ten runs in two overs. He also picked up the crucial wicket of Tristan Stubbs. Magala’s experience at death could be more valuable than ever for the Super Kings.
Tushar Deshpande, who is shouldering more responsibility at the death too could get some words of wisdom and will learn with Magala bowling from the other end.