Position on table: 7
Highest run-scorer: Faf du Plessis (449 runs)
Highest wicket-taker: Sam Curran (13 wickets)
Star of the season: Sam Curran
Flop of the season: MS Dhoni
Find of the season: Ruturaj Gaikwad
It feels strange writing about Chennai Super Kings’ journey at this stage of the Indian Premier League before the final. Their review is generally reserved for when the season ends. But then it 2020, and things haven’t been normal this year have they?
After 10 seasons of dominance, this IPL is the first time, Chennai have not made it to the final four of the tournament. The finalists of last year’s IPL, the Yellow Army looked out of sorts even before the tournament started in the UAE. As many as seven members of the squad had not played professional cricket this calendar year. Then on reaching the UAE, 13 members of the squad, including two players, Deepak Chahar and Ruturaj Gaikwad, tested positive for COVID19. Suresh Raina returned home from the UAE citing family reasons while Harbhajan Singh too pulled out. In addition, Dwayne Bravo was injured for a chunk of the tournament which meant the balance of the side went totally awry.
Before we get into details about what went wrong for Chennai, here’s a look at their journey in the tournament.
Powerplay Woes and middle-order muddle
Overs 1-6 were Chennai’s Achilles Heel all through this tournament. Everything that could go wrong for them this season at the top of the order did.
Their run rate during the Powerplay this season of 7.1 was the joint-worst among all teams. A major reason for this was also to do with the fact that they did not have a fixed opening pair. The pressure seeped into the middle-order as well where too Chennai lacked the spark. Their run rate in the middle phase, from overs 7 to 15, throughout the season was a mere 7.4, the third-lowest across all teams.
Without Suresh Raina in the middle-order, Chennai were hamstrung especially with Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni also not finding any form. They did up the scoring rate in the death as the run rate of 10.2 suggests but no impetus in the first 15 overs meant, Chennai could only maintain an overall run rate of 8 throughout the whole season, the joint-worst.
MS Dhoni – the batsman and the captain
It is very rare when MS Dhoni’s captaincy comes under the scanner but such has been this season that even the three-time IPL winning captain has often been questioned. This might be down to his batting.
It is safe to say that 2020 was the worst year for Dhoni – the batsman. Dhoni made only 200 runs, his lowest tally in an IPL season, at a strike rate of 116.27, his second-lowest in an IPL season. He did not score a single half-century, for the first time in an IPL season. He hit only seven sixes through the length of the tournament, his fewest in a single edition. Too add to this, his batting positions were also questioned all through.
Not performing with the bat seemed to affect Dhoni’s captaincy as well. He was at times too obstinate with his decision making, such as not picking Imran Tahir till Chennai were almost out of the tournament or not opting for a replacement for Raina and Harbhajan. Dhoni’s comments about not seeing enough spark in the youngsters also did not go down well with a lot of the fans.
The fact of the matter remained that the youngsters were not given enough chances early on and Dhoni often went back to trusting his senior-men in Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis and Kedar Jadhav to perform. But the trio more often than not did not live up to their billing.
Spinners failed to live up to the CSK standards
This is one area where Chennai really struggled. Over the years, the Yellow Brigade have relied on their spinners a great deal to get them out of the woods. The surfaces in Chennai are tailor-made for slower bowlers and the spinners have done their bit. But this time around, with the pitches in the UAE not favouring the spinners as much, CSK looked out of options.
Having said that, the Chennai spinners did look shoddy all through the tournament. With Deepak Chahar and Sam Curran doing a fair job at the start, Dhoni would have expected his spinners to come good. But it wasn’t to be this time around.
Chennai largely oscillated between three spinners this season – Piyush Chawla, Ravindra Jadeja and Karn Sharma. The trio, to put it mildly, were atrocious.
They collectively conceded runs at an economy of 8.5, the most expensive in the tournament, picked the joint-least number of wickets (20), had the least dot ball percentage (26.6), and the worst average (40.1 runs/wicket).
Which further raised questions as to why Imran Tahir, the Purple Cap holder of the 2019 season and the second-highest wicket-taker in T20s since the start of 2019, was cooling his heels in the dressing room till Match 41 of the tournament.
The Kedar Jadhav conundrum
It was very clear that Chennai were carrying way too many passengers in their side. Throughout the tournament, the role and messaging to Kedar Jadhav remained a mystery. He played 5 innings this season. In those, he has come into bat in the 9th, 10th, 6th, 17th and 18th overs respectively. His returns in the five innings read 22 (16), 26 (21), 3 (10), 7* (12), 4* (7) – a strike rate of 93.9, which incidentally was the second-lowest of all players in the tournament for a minimum of 50 runs.
It was not the strike-rate or the lack of runs which was the problem as far as Jadhav was concerned. His intent or rather lack of it posed serious question marks. With age not on his side, Jadhav’s future looks rather bleak in the years to come.
THE HIGH POINTS
There was not all gloom for Chennai though. While the high points came few and far between, the way Chennai ended the tournament winning three games on the bounce will give them some sort of confidence going into the next season.
THE YOUNG GUNS
"You don't want to chop and change. Insecurity is something you don't want to prevail in the dressing room. Also the youngsters, we didn't see the spark to push the guys.”
It looks like Ruturaj Gaikwad took Dhoni’s statement about lack of spark in youngsters after Chennai’s loss to Rajasthan in Match 37 personally.
Looking at the broader picture, Gaikwad undoubtedly was the find of the season. He first had to deal with the deadly COVID 19 virus and then being unceremoniously dropped after 2 games.
He was finally brought back in Chennai’s 11th game of the season and immediately showed his true potential. In his last three games, Gaikwad had scores of 65*, 72 and 62* and was key in all three wins for his side.
In addition to Gaikwad, Curran seemed like the only one who felt like he was aiming to win. He was scoring runs, taking wickets, plucking catches. He was the highest wicket-taker for his side with 13 wickets in 14 matches, striking every 19.3 balls. With the bat, Curran scored 186 runs at an average of 20.66 which included one half-century.
OVERALL SCORE - 2/5
Chennai, uncharacteristically, were very average in the tournament. They would have finished last if not for wins in the final three of their games. Talking about positives, well they were very few and far between. With the next IPL not too far away, Chennai will have to really pull up their socks and build their team around a core which includes a lot of the younger players such as Rituraj Gaikwad and Sam Curran. The good news is that MS Dhoni is still around to lead the side next season and with the IPL, for now, set to be hosted in India, the CSK fans will be hoping their team can turn around a corner.