Unflustered by the label ‘Dad’s Army’,
Chennai Super Kings completed a remarkable comeback, after a two-year hiatus,
and lifted their third title in 2018 to further cement their status as the team
to beat in the annual Indian Premier League tournament.
The Men in Yellow price stability and tend to go with the tried and tested. Even before the 2018 auction they ensured their core was intact, retaining talismanic skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni as also Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja. Two other stalwarts of the franchise Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo were also roped in with the Right to Match cards.
If anything, CSK has always lacked a bowling superstar -- someone capable of consistent match-winning performances. Dhoni has, in the past, brought in lesser known Indian bowling options and mentored them ably. In 2018 it was the turn of Deepak Chahar. The Rajasthan pacer was sublime in the powerplay, picking up 10 wickets at an economy of 7.33 and a high 53.3 dot ball percentage. Chahar’s numbers largely contributed to CSK’s overall bowling performance in the powerplay, with the side conceding on average just 7.83 RPO and bowling on average three dot balls per over.
Lungi Ngidi made it to the starting XI only midway through the CSK but performed with aplomb when he did get his chance – the lanky South African quick was frugal in the powerplay with an economy rate of 5.6 per over. Even more remarkably, he had a dot ball percentage of 58.8, and only 14.44 per cent of his deliveries were dispatched to the fence. CSK suffered a blow on the eve of the 2019 edition when news came that Ngidi was diagnosed with a Grade II muscle strain during South Africa’s ODI game against Sri Lanka, and will need four weeks of rest and rehab in the lead up to the World Cup.
A highly competitive spin line-up, coupled with the all-sorts trickery of Bravo, helped CSK wrest control in the middle overs, with the bowling unit going for 7.92 RPO in the middle overs and picking up 38 wickets (their maximum for any one phase of an innings) while giving away boundaries at a miserly one per 14.6 deliveries.
The jarring note in this happy story was Imran Tahir, reputedly capable of containing batsmen. In CSK’s yellow, Tahir however went for 9.35 an over in 2018, though he did manage to take wickets at crucial junctures. A study of trends indicates that when the CSK spinners pitched it up during overs 7-15, they were taken for 11.2 runs per over, and that in large part explains Tahir’s underwhelming performance.
In previous years, Dwayne Bravo earned a reputation as a death overs specialist. But in 2018 the Trinidadian wasn’t up to par, likely because with the sort of intensive analysis teams are capable of, opposition batsmen have worked out his slower ball.
Despite him landing 9.8 per cent of his deliveries at a Yorker length, Bravo bowled 15 per cent full-tosses and that cost his economy (11.71) dear. Shardul Thakur was also taken to the cleaners, landing too many full-length deliveries eventually giving away 11.64 at the back end of the innings.
With Ngidi out, CSK’s death bowling is certain to take a blow. It remains to be seen if Englishman David Willey, who had a decent outing in the series against West Indies, can fill the strapping South African’s boots.
Historically, CSK have had opening pairs that display remarkable consistency. With Ambati Rayudu, du Plessis and veteran Shane Watson in the ranks in 2018, they were assured of more of the same.
Rayudu and Watson went about building a platform as they motored at 7.87 in the powerplay, finding the fence every 20.41 balls. The dot ball percentage was a tad on the higher side at 49.1, but with the depth in their line-up, it wasn’t something that concerned Dhoni’s men.
Rayudu (9.23), Raina (7.91) and Watson (7.61) collected runs at a brisk pace, setting the stage for the likes of Dhoni, Bravo and Jadeja to give them a push in the latter stages.
Think middle overs and you think Dhoni. Calm, collected and capable of going big at the right time is the former Indian captain’s hallmark, but in 2018 it was Watson who, defying age, was the most prolific.
Having retired from international cricket, the Queenslander upped the ante and struck at 12.09 with a boundary percentage of 27.86. Rayudu (8.21) also remained consistent in this phase and, in fact, it was Dhoni who under-performed, failing to score off 40.5 per cent of the deliveries he faced, and finding the fence only once in 9.09 deliveries.
These numbers, and the visibly obvious slowing down of Dhoni’s batting, have had the cricketing world in a frenzy of criticism and defense, but the 37-year-old has a habit of producing magic just when pencils are sharpened to write his cricketing obituary.
In contrast to how he performs in the middle overs, Dhoni invariably comes into his own at the death, striking at 12.14 and raising his boundary percentage to 26.82, while failing to score off only 12.1 per cent of balls bowled at him. Interestingly, when batting between the 16th and 20th overs, CSK’s captain has lost his wicket just thrice through the entirety of the 2018 season.
Besides retaining the core of its winning side, CSK this year have a bonus in the shape of Kiwi all-rounder Mitchell Santner, who had missed out last year through injury.
Death bowling remains a concern, but if MSD can marshal his resources with his trademark skill, then the advantage of playing at the MA Chidambaram Stadium makes CSK a force to reckon with.
It remains to be seen though whether Aakash Chopra’s quip after the 2018 final, “IPL – A tournament where seven teams play to meet CSK in the final” stands the test of time. Going by our internal algorithm, CSK will have a 75% chance of making the playoffs, something that they’ve always done in the tournament and a record that will ideally remain intact.