IPL 2023 Preview: The Last Dance for Thala Dhoni's army

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23 Mar 2023 | 12:18 PM
authorAakash Sivasubramaniam

IPL 2023 Preview: The Last Dance for Thala Dhoni's army

No more the Dad’s army, Thala’s men will have a point to prove come this year’s IPL

Since 2020, Chennai Super Kings have finished more times at the bottom of the table than they have at the top of the table. Sandwiched right in between two bottom-placed finishes was 2021 – a season where the CSK veterans shook the tournament with a win.

But there’s one more connection with these years. CSK last played a home game back in 2019, and ever since that, have only found more voices away from home. For the first time in nearly four years, the familiar whistles will return.

“It will be unfair to not play in Chennai and say thank you,” said MS Dhoni during the 2022 IPL season. Unofficially, there already would have been a dressing room conversation where the motto of the team would have been ‘Let’s do it for Dhoni’.

This is Thala’s Last Dance. Will Ravindra Jadeja be the Scottie Pippen? It will be in front of the faithful, who already in one way or another other have started sourcing for tickets. 

Like the last 14 years, the theme of CSK’s season would be “Thala Paathupaaru” but given that Thala is 41, and is ageing at a rapid pace, has the management given him enough to see?

No Guts, No glory then!

Squad Depth

Have they plugged the gap(s)?

CSK have trusted the process immensely in the last three years but barring 2021, it hasn’t worked. Deepak Chahar’s return has essentially solved one of the biggest issues for the franchise – powerplay bowling. CSK did pick up 21 wickets, with Mukesh Choudhary stepping in but having Chahar back is a blessing in disguise. 

The other aspect that stung them last year in a major way was power-hitting, combined with the lacklustre form of Ambati Rayudu. Rayudu scored his runs with a strike-rate of 129.4, and if not for his 78 against Punjab Kings, the numbers would be extremely underwhelming.

Have they signed any power-hitters? None! So, their best bet would yet again be to rely on Rayudu for bulk of the scoring or if not, Shivam Dube has to be at his tonking best. 

Apart from that, funnily enough, Chennai plugged a lot of their gap late last season, with the inclusion of the talented leg-spinner, Prashant Solanki, helping them to set up a good core for 2023. 

One thing that they need to work out

The retirement of Dwayne Bravo puts them in an ultimate fix: who bowls at the death? That’s one area that the franchise desperately needs resources and looking at the squad, there isn't a lot of help. Dwaine Pretorius is definitely one of the picks for death but apart from that?

CSK’s recruitment in that department has been rather dodgy – with none of the Indian pacers – quite equipped to bowl at the death. Among all the teams, Chennai ranked the worst when it comes to death bowling, with the least number of wickets (27) at that phase, and an economy of 10.5, averaging 22.2.

There’s a left-field choice at it – playing the South African Sisanda Magala. Magala has been a proven death-over specialist in South Africa’s domestic level, and even picked up wickets in the powerplay for the Sunrisers Eastern Cape during their successful SA20 campaign.

One will decide the other, given that the franchise signed the English all-rounder Ben Stokes for an unheard-CSK price of INR 16.25 crore. That’s what their biggest headache of the season will be, where and how will they play Stokes? Unless they decide to drop Conway, and give a fourth-opening partner for Ruturaj Gaikwad, their options are quite dicey.

What will win them the title?

It is quite perplexing to talk about tactics, CSK and Dhoni on the same page. During their successful run in 2021, the promotion of Moeen Ali to No.3 solved multiple purposes for the franchise. But given that they are largely unchanged in the last two years, it is an external factor that could help them lift the title – home advantage.

Chepauk is a fortress. CSK are sure-shot playing with 12 men when they are playing in Chennai, and the crowd isn’t the 12th, it is the spin-factor. Unless the opposition is well-prepared, they don’t stand a chance of getting blown away. The familiar territory will be back after 2019, after four years.

Last year, CSK had the third-best spin attack but consider last season an anomaly. Since the start of the competition, only KKR have had statistically a better spin attack than them. It would be the chance for Solanki and Ajay Mandal to make their impact.

Not to forget captain Dhoni. That’s a large enough reason why CSK are CSK and why Chepauk is considered a fortress. It would be another season of how Dhoni makes the most of the squad at his disposal, and with that experience, count CSK out at your own peril.

MVP - Deepak Chahar

Home and Away

CSK are one of those franchises, who won’t be too fazed with playing games away from home given how much they have played away from their comfort zone in conditions that aid seam and swing. But knowing that they are playing seven games in Chepauk would definitely give them a big sigh of relief. 

Does CSK have the tools to succeed away from home? That’s where a lot of criticism for the franchise would be. With no proven Indian pacer, not someone who can constantly bowl at a high pace, the four-time IPL winners are going to struggle big time. 

Squad and Team Combination

Squad: MS Dhoni (c), Devon Conway, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ambati Rayudu, Subhranshu Senapati, Moeen Ali, Shivam Dube, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Dwaine Pretorius, Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja, Tushar Deshpande, Mukesh Chowdhary, Matheesha Pathirana, Simarjeet Singh, Deepak Chahar, Prashant Solanki, Maheesh Theekshana, Bhagath Varma, Ajay Mandal, Kyle Jamieson (replaced by Sisanda Magala), Nishant Sindhu, Shaik Rasheed, Ben Stokes, Ajinkya Rahane 

Predicted XI – Home – Devon Conway, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Moeen Ali, Ambati Rayudu, Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwaine Pretorius/Ben Stokes, Mitchell Santner*, MS Dhoni (wk and c), Deepak Chahar, Mukesh Choudhary

Predicted XI – Away – Ben Stokes, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Moeen Ali, Ambati Rayudu, Ajay Mondal, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwaine Pretorius, MS Dhoni, Deepak Chahar, Maheesh Theekshana, Mukesh Choudhary

(Theekshana is unlikely to play CSK's first home game and is set to miss a few games due to international commitments)

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Gujarat Titans vs Chennai Super KingsIndian Premier League, 2023Chennai Super KingsMS DhoniRavindra JadejaDeepak ChaharAmbati RayuduBen StokesDwaine PretoriusAjay MandalPrashant Solanki

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