Best finish: Champions in 2010, 2011, and 2018
Worst finish: 7th in 2020
Top Run-Getter: Suresh Raina – 5,369
Top Wicket-Taker: Dwayne Bravo - 124
New additions in 2021: Moeen Ali, Krishnappa Gowtham, Cheteshwar Pujara, C Hari Nishaanth, Harishankar Reddy, Bhagath Varma
Since their return in 2018, Chennai Super Kings have left the experts confused. A squad with a plethora of players on the other side of 30 and a batting strategy focused on preserving wickets is opposite to what analysts advocated for success in the T20 format. This did not hinder their dominance in the league in the two seasons to follow. They achieved success because of an exceptional record on the home turf and with experienced players standing up in crunch moments. The juggernaut came to a halt in 2020 when the CSK bubble finally burst.
Last season CSK lost two players, their anchor and the only off-spinner before the tournament began. After a few games, it became clear that age has finally caught up with a few of their key players. They failed to find a spot in the top four for the first time. And if not for the spark of youth towards the end, they would have finished at the bottom.
Over the years, CSK’s strength with the bat has been hitting in the death overs - 16 to 20. This has been due to their lower-order’s affinity against pace bowling and a long batting line-up. Looking at their first XI and the players in reserves, CSK has the richest bench of all-rounders. Their run-rate against pace in the season throughout the innings was 8.62, the third-best.
In the 2020 season with positives few and far, CSK managed a run-rate of 10.23 at the death which was in line with other sides that did well in this phase.
With the ball, CSK’s strength was their pace attack. Deepak Chahar bowled at an economy of 7.6 and Sam Curran emerged as their leading wicket-taker (13 wickets).
Overall, CSK pacers had the third-best economy in the season (8.25). But, due to the exploits of Chahar and Curran with the new ball, CSK’s economy of 7.48 was next only to Mumbai’s 6.99 in the Powerplay.
Whether with the bat or ball, spin was CSK’s biggest nemesis last season. Their run-rate of 7.08 against spin was the lowest among all sides. The difference between them and the other sides on tackling spin was more profound in overs 1-15. Despite having the highest balls per wicket record of 34.1 against spin in this phase, their run-rate was way lower than any other side.
With a long batting line-up, the conservative batting approach was the primary reason for their downfall. No other batsman exemplifies CSK’s fixation to conservative batting than MS Dhoni who had a strike rate of 74.5 against spinners in the first 15 overs.
Over the years, CSK built their squad with an emphasis on choking the opposition with spin. Dhoni behind the wicket is a spinner’s delight and it worked well for CSK in their rich history. Last season, on wickets that did not offer fizzing turn like those in Chepauk, CSK spinners lost the plot.
Going in with the India spin contingent in most games, CSK’s spinners were a distant worst on economy than those from other sides.
With only one overseas spot to fill before the auction, the only noteworthy player CSK have added is Moeen Ali. The Englishman not only solves the issue of CSK not having an off-spinner but also provides them a player who is a spin basher. In a budding IPL career, Moeen has a strike rate of 153.4 against spin, head and shoulders above any other batsman in the CSK unit.
Ruturaj Gaikwad was the find for CSK last season. He notched three consecutive half-centuries towards the end which eventually helped CSK avoid the wooden spoon. Sam Curran too was a handy floater with the bat.
Three other players to look forward to this season are Imran Tahir, Ravi Jadeja and Shardul Thakur. Tahir played just three games last season as CSK needed a foreign spot to include another batsman. With Ruturaj in the mix, CSK will start with Tahir who was the leading wicket-taker in 2019.
Jadeja enjoyed his best IPL season with the bat, 232 runs at a strike rate of 171.8, in 2020. His evolution as a responsible batsman is encouraging for CSK. Shardul is having a dream run in both aspects of the game and will look to carry forward his knack of taking wickets and hitting boundaries in the IPL as well.
The team that CSK put together in 2018 was to accomplish a near-term objective. No other team was more desperate for a mega auction ahead of this season than them. CSK have the heaviest baggage of players past their prime among all teams. Dhoni and Suresh Raina have retired from international cricket while Ambati Rayudu, Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo are in the twilight of their career. Raina might act as an adhesive at the crucial number three spot but even the die-hard fans will accept that the presence of Dhoni – who has not played any professional cricket since the IPL last year – is merely symbolic.
The biggest threat to CSK’s chances is yet again to not play at their home venue. Their record of 80% wins at home in 2018 and 2019 was the highest among all teams. But, a last hoorah for the core of the legendary CSK unit might act as a catalyst to uplift the Dad’s Army.
Faf du Plessis, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (c&wk), Moeen Ali, Ravi Jadeja, Sam Curran, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Imran Tahir