Age is just a number, as Chennai Super Kings will tell you.
The oldest side in the Indian Premier League won the title, for the third time in its history, in 2018. “The IPL is a tournament where seven teams fight for the right to play CSK in the final”, used to be a joke among fans until, suddenly, it became a truism.
The defending champions open the 2019 edition with a game against the perennial underachievers Royal Challengers Bangalore at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai, on March 23. And the contest is loaded with subtexts that add layers of interest beyond what actually happens across those 40 overs.
There is, for instance, the iconic MS Dhoni leading CSK. When the team arrived for its first full-fledged practice session a few days ago, they found 28,000 fans packing the stands to watch them practice – which is more than most Tests in India attract over five days.
As questions about his form and fitness mounted over the last twelve months, fans pointed to instances of how Dhoni, with a timely intervention in the form of a field placement or a quiet word in a bowler’s ear changed the fortunes of his team. Against that, former India opener Gautam Gambhir recently dissed RCB and India captain Virat Kohli, saying he had no sense of strategy nor any tactical nous.
It is all set up very nicely: The oldest team in the competition playing to defend its title versus the under-achievers fighting for redemption; the unquestioned tactical genius of Dhoni versus the dubious captaincy of Kohli; the turbo-charged batting of the RCB versus the skillful bowling of CSK… slice it any way you like, the 2019 season couldn’t have had a better opener.
Spinners to dominate
It’s summer. To say it is hot in Chennai is tautology. Night time temperatures drop into the mid-20s, though, and a sea breeze coming off the Marina helps cool things down a touch. Dew is not a factor at this time of the year – the only real impact the weather can have is to bake the wicket bone dry – which sets it up for spinners, who traditionally do well at this ground.
Spinners have contained well in the powerplays in Chennai. The best time to bowl them is in the middle-overs and also at the death. Overall, they are effective in all phases of play . Here are the numbers:
It is evident that the spinners will determine the eventual outcome of the game. To reiterate the above point, here’s a look at some of the spinners, who have bowled extremely well at Chepauk:
The key to winning on the CSK’s home turf therefore lies in picking batsmen who can play spin well – and it is Colin de Grandhomme who has the best record for the visitors. With a minimum cut off of 60 balls faced, here is how the top batsmen of either side fare against spin:
De Grandhomme is on top of the pile, but he gets dismissed once every 15.7 deliveries, which is definitely not great compared to others on the list. However, the New Zealander bats at No. 7 or 8 usually for his team and, more often than not, does not have many deliveries to play with, unlike a Kohli or Dhoni. Nevertheless, de Grandhomme runs at the death will be crucial as his runs could eventually turn out to be the difference between the two sides as he not just negotiates spinners well, but also scores significant runs against them, when others struggle.
Among spinners, the wrist-spinners dominate in Chepauk – in the first innings they concede at 7.13 runs per over and when defending, they are even better, going at just 5.8. However, they tend to go for runs at the death, being hit at 11.16 when bowling first and 9.51 when defending.
Off-spinners and left-arm orthodox spinners fare better at the death, with the former going at 8.07 and the latter at 9.31.
On paper, RCB have the better batting line-up, more so with the middle order boosted by the likes of de Grandhomme and Shimron Hetmyer batting behind Kohli and de Villiers, and a more than decent spin attack led by Yuzvendra Chahal. Against that, the CSK batting is aging, but they have the better spin attack. There is however a toss-up between Murali Vjay and Faf du Plessis for the opening spot. While Vijay was impressive in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, which included 3 back-to-back 50-plus scores. Du Plessis should ideally get the nod, at the back of a fruitful international season. However, if CSK do go in with a Watson-Vijay combo, David Willey could come into the team to help with their death bowling.
However, in the fast bowling department, CSK were dealt with a blow after Lungi Ngidi was ruled of the IPL due to a side strain. Ngidi played a significant role in CSK’s title triumph in 2018, having picked up 11 wickets from seven matches.
And then there is Dhoni who, in the opinion of his legion of fans, is a whole team all by himself.
Key batsmen vs opposition spinners: Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni have not been troubled much by RCB’s main spinner Chahal. They strike at 143.59 and 145.08 respectively against the leg-spinner. However, Rayudu and du Plessis have a strike-rate of 74.7 against Chahal and as a result, RCB will look to deploy the leggie against them early on. Also, in 2018 IPL, Chahal was much more effective in the powerplays, where he had an economy rate of 5.84, while he was expensive in the middle-overs (7.03) and at the death (12.40).
Battle at the death: RCB have an economy of 9.92 at the death in the IPL, while the corresponding number for CSK is 9.38. However, in 2018, CSK’s economy at the death shot up to 10.91, while RCB’s was 11.65. For CSK, their main bowler at the death was Dwayne Bravo, who often deceived the batsmen with his variations and pinpoint yorkers. But in 2018 he conceded at 12.12. However, the inclusion of Lungi Ngidi, who picked up four of his 11 wickets at the death at an economy of 6.80, was often CSK’s savior in the end. CSK will have to find an able replacement for him this time around. With a cut off of 60 deliveries bowled, the other two bowlers – Bravo and Shardul Thakur had economies of 11.71 and 11.64 respectively.
For RCB, it was a collective failure with the likes of Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj and Southee conceding 14.10, 10.64 and 10.36 respectively.
RCB have added Marcus Stoinis to ease the pressure in the death, but he too has conceded at 12.15 at the death in the IPL, while CSK have brought back Mohit Sharma, who has an economy rate a shade under 10.
However, since the end of 2018 IPL, Stoinis’ T20 numbers have improved drastically. In his 16 T20 matches since, he has conceded at 9.63, with a strike-rate of 9. In the absence of Ngidi, David Willey could be an option for CSK at the death. He has been excellent at the death since 2018 IPL, with an economy rate of 8.26 and strike-rate of 15.3.
Chennai Super Kings: Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Karn Sharma, Imran Tahir, Shardul Thakur/Mohit Sharma, Deepak Chahar
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Parthiv Patel (wk), Virat Kohli (c), AB de Villiers, Shimron Hetmyer, Colin de Grandhomme, Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Kulwant Khejroliya, Tim Southee