If not for the spark of Ruturaj Gaikwad in the last three games, Chennai Super Kings were well on their way to end with a wooden spoon in IPL 2020. And quite rightly as the most consistent team in the IPL up until then finally faced the wrath of age as their veterans let the team down. Gaikwad and Sam Curran were the only bright spots in a dismal campaign in 2020.
CSK were without their vice-captain and batting anchor Suresh Raina who missed the tournament due to personal reasons. But, he is set to continue his association with the side in this season. Along with Raina, Faf du Plessis, Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni form a batting crux of this side. However, only time will tell if Dhoni’s presence in the side is symbolic or literal. Continuing their ritual of including veterans, they have traded in Robin Uthappa from the Rajasthan Royals ahead of the 2021 season.
CSK are rich in the all-rounders' department with the presence of players like Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Sam Curran and Mitchell Santner. On the pace bowling front, Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur, Lungi Ngidi, Josh Hazlewood along with Bravo and Curran cover all aspects. In the spin department, Imran Tahir is a notable presence along with Jadeja.
Hence there are a lot of players that constitute CSK’s nucleus. The issue is that most of these players are either from overseas or are past their prime.
CSK best XI based on the current squad-
Ruturaj Gaikwad, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (c&wk), Sam Curran, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur, Imran Tahir
Going into the auction for the 2021 season, CSK released some players due to retirement or non-performance. A few notable ones being-
Kedar Jadhav - Bought at a whopping 7.8 crores in ahead of the 2018 auction, Jadhav did not fit the bill for CSK in any season. In 2020, bad got worse when he ended up playing only five innings in which he scored 62 runs that were at a strike-rate of 93.9. This was the second-lowest in the season among batsmen with a minimum of 50 runs.
Piyush Chawla – At 6.75 crore, Chawla was the most expensive buy for CSK ahead of the 2020 season. However, he had sub-optimal returns in the season. In the 7 innings he bowled, his economy was 9.1 which was the highest among all spinners with overs in double digits in the season.
Owing to retirement, CSK will also be without the services of Shane Watson while they have parted ways with Harbhajan Singh and Murali Vijay. The separation with Harbhajan is up for speculation while Vijay’s IPL career is all but over.
While CSK have 6 slots available, they can buy only one more foreign player. However, their remaining salary cap is 19.9 crores which is higher than four other teams.
With an ageing unit, CSK would have preferred a mega auction this year. Now, they are limited in terms of slots to fill and players available to rebuild the side to overcome last year’s debacle.
Requirement 1: Power hitting
Over the years, batting was never really a differentiator for CSK. For them, it was always about strangling the opposition with spin. But, in 2020 when their spinners were not up to the mark, their ageing batsmen could not lift the side. What they lack was a modern-day power hitter in the upper order.
CSK’s run-rate in the first 15 overs was 7.29 which was the second-lowest among all teams. This was largely due to a balls per boundary record of 7.04 which was the second-worst. Moreover, they hit 44 sixes in the tournament, almost half than the tournament winners Mumbai Indians. This was primarily due to the inability of their batsmen to counter opposition spinners. Their run-rate of 7.08 against spin in IPL 2020 was worst among all teams.
Players they can target are – Since they have only one spot available for an overseas player and there is no particular Indian explosive batsman up for grabs in the auction, CSK can go for a gamble. Since they have a decent purse remaining, they can go for someone like a Glenn Maxwell.
Maxwell is an excellent player of spin and has a career strike-rate of above 150 against both types of bowlers. Moreover, he can find clarity of role in a set-up like CSK which he could not in Kings XI Punjab. To accommodate him in the XI, they can either have Curran or Rayudu open with Gaikwad and du Plessis can make way for a more attacking all-round option of Maxwell.
Requirement 2: Off-spinners
As mentioned earlier, spinners let CSK down in IPL 2020. Contrary to their successful years, CSK spinners had the worst economy rate last season. But, given IPL will be back in India, they will expect their spinners to be better.
Surprisingly, CSK let Harbhajan go given that they have no off-spinner in their side. This is an area they were found wanting in the previous season as well. Knowing Dhoni and his preference for match-ups, they would want to plug this gap.
To achieve that, CSK have an option to go for Krishnappa Gowtham who can also serve as an all-rounder and play as needed on the day. If they end up buying Maxwell, they can hit two birds with one stone. Get a power-hitter and also a decent off-spinner.
Another player that falls in the above category is Moeen Ali. But, his abilities might not be inspiring enough for CSK to leave out a foreign player from their current squad to accommodate him in the XI.