Before the commencement of IPL 2020, CSK (Chennai Super Kings) were the only team to have made it to the playoffs of each season in which they featured. Thus, expectations ahead of last year's tournament were clean - to reach the playoffs and try to win their fourth IPL title.
However, things went downhill for MS Dhoni and his men as inconsistency cost them a place in the playoffs for the first time ever. The aging squad finally seemed to have run its race as CSK finished second from bottom with just six wins from fourteen games.
5 CSK Players to watch out for in IPL 2021
In the post-match presentation following CSK's last league game, Dhoni was vocal about the need to build the core of the team for the next few years. That is what CSK tried to address in the IPL 2021 auction.
With some old faces back in the mix coupled with a few new signings, CSK look determined to put last season behind them and get back to their best. Here are five players who can help CSK return to their glory days.
#5 Moeen Ali
Moeen Ali is arguably one of the most underrated T20 all-rounders in the world. A hard-hitter of the ball who is also capable of picking wickets with his off-spin, Ali is an asset to any team. Surprisingly, the Englishman has never had a consistent run of games in the IPL.
In 19 games, Ali has scored 309 runs at an outstanding strike-rate of 158.46. Therefore, it was hard to believe the Royal Challengers Bangalore let him go ahead of the upcoming season.
However, CSK invested heavily in him as they snapped him up for a whopping INR 7 Crore in the IPL 2021 auction. Last season, Ravindra Jadeja proved to be the lone finisher in the CSK ranks. But this time, the presence of Ali in the middle-order could help take a bit of the burden off Jadeja.
The acquisition of Ali seems to be a smart move and it will be interesting to see how he goes about his business in the IPL 2021 season.
#4 Shardul Thakur
Shardul Thakur has been one of the most improved Indian cricketers since the start of 2021. Once considered a bowler who struggled for consistency, Thakur has transformed himself into a genuine wicket-taker.
The Mumbai pacer made a return to Test cricket at the Gabba and contributed with both bat and ball to help India script history. This was just the beginning of greater things to come for the 'all-rounder'.
Thakur turned out to be the go-to bowler for Indian skipper Virat Kohli in the limited-overs series against England. Whenever Kohli needed a wicket, he turned to the Mumbai lad and more often than not, he delivered.
Thakur's fine form has put him and CSK in good stead ahead of the IPL 2021 season. His subtle variations while bowling, coupled with his big-hitting ability, will certainly prove to be an asset for Dhoni and his men.
#3 Ruturaj Gaikwad
Amongst the disappointments of IPL 2020, Ruturaj Gaikwad emerged as one of the few bright spots for CSK. The youngster had a terrible start to the season as he tested positive for COVID-19. After a long wait, he got his opportunity in the middle-order, which wasn't natural for him since he is an opener.
After a few failures, Gaikwad saw himself out of the playing XI and not until CSK's final three games of the tournament did he get a chance to prove his mettle. He was patient enough to wait for his chance and then grabbed it with both hands.
Three half-centuries in a row at the top of the order saw both Gaikwad and CSK finish their season off on a high. Thanks to his performances in IPL 2020, Gaikwad has almost cemented his place as CSK's first-choice opener for the upcoming season.
With impressive performances this year in the domestic season, Gaikwad is geared up to have a breakthrough IPL 2021. CSK's chances of making it to the playoffs could hinge on how Gaikwad bats.
#2 Suresh Raina
One of the big blows for CSK last season was the absence of Suresh Raina, who is arguably their best batsman. Although the dynamic left-hander has retired from international cricket and hasn't played for a while, he will still be one of their most important players this season.
CSK struggled to consistently post competitive totals on the board in IPL 2020. With Raina's return at No.3, this issue will likely be sorted. The southpaw has the ability to up the ante and take the game away from the opposition.
In 193 games, Raina has scored a stupendous 5368 runs at a healthy average of 33.34. With a century and an incredible 38 fifties to Raina's name so far, there has been no bigger match-winner for CSK. They will hope their star batsman can fire all cylinders this season.
#1 Sam Curran
The rise of Sam Curran as an impactful all-rounder of late has been monumental. He has been identified as one of the mainstays in the CSK camp and one who may be an important part of the future core.
Sam Curran was seen as a floater in CSK's batting order, as the team used him as an opener as well as a finisher. He scored 186 runs at a fantastic strike-rate of 143.36 with two half-centuries to his name.
He had a huge impact with the ball as well, picking up 13 scalps at an acceptable economy of 8.19. He ensured that CSK didn't feel the pinch of Dwayne Bravo's absence as the West Indies all-rounder struggled with injury.
Curran showed exactly what he is capable of with the bat in the third ODI of the recently-concluded India-England series. His incredible 95* almost helped England pull off an impossible win in the decider. His fine form is a huge boost for CSK ahead of IPL 2021.
Curran will once again be the X factor in the CSK team this year as he is capable of turning a game on his head with both bat and ball. He will hold the key if CSK are to bring home their fourth IPL title.