25th April, 2018. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) have already shown glimpses of their batting pedigree in their second coming as an IPL outfit and have, in fact, cast themselves as favourites to win the 2018 edition.
At Bengaluru though, the Yellow Army, owing to a sub-standard bowling performance, have left themselves with a 206-run mountain to climb.
The contest seems to pass CSK by, especially when they are reduced to 59/3 in the 7th over and later, to 74/4. At that juncture, though a well-set Ambati Rayudu greets MS Dhoni at the crease, there still remains skepticism and a huge cloud over CSK’s prospective ability to hunt that total down.
Over the next hour or so, MS Dhoni turns back the clock majestically – slashing, jabbing, punching and pummeling his way to a 34-ball 70*. With Ambati Rayudu and Dwayne Bravo for company, MS Dhoni makes light work of the chase, despite staring down the barrel at the half-way mark. Not a lot wrong with CSK’s chasing mechanism, right?
Yet, while there exists that extra ounce of exhilaration in unfurling such victories, it also possesses a caveat, wherein wayward execution could make the side look extremely silly and ordinary.
And, after years of being the masters of the Houdini acts, CSK might just have arrived at a crossroad where they might contemplate a method of reinvention, considering such run chases now represent the anomaly, rather than the norm.
To put things into perspective, just days before that memorable chase at the Chinnaswamy, CSK had floundered at Mohali against Kings XI Punjab. On that occasion, MS Dhoni ran out of partners and was perhaps a tad lackadaisical at the start of the innings himself. Consequently, CSK fell short by 4 runs, despite the great man remaining unbeaten.
A year later, again at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, MS Dhoni found himself in the eye of the storm. Though CSK required a slightly more middling total in 2019, they still veered into a situation where the former Indian skipper required 26 runs off the final over.
In fact, he got the equation down to 2 runs off the final ball and made the CSK faithful harbor ambitions of yet another jail-break victory. Unfortunately, though, his late-overs pyrotechnics couldn’t mask the flaws that have started making the ‘CSK play-book of chasing tall scores’ rather untenable. Or, if one goes a touch further, pretty impractical too.
For years, CSK have relied on building a solid foundation and then launching from it. Batsmen of the ilk of Michael Hussey, S Badrinath and more recently, Faf du Plessis have been used as fail-safe options – something that has historically allowed their flair players to flourish.
It is worth noting though that these ‘flair’ players such as Brendon McCullum, Matthew Hayden, Suresh Raina and even to an extent, Dwayne Smith, often went on to make substantial contributions – essays that ultimately tilted the encounter in CSK’s favour.
And, though the likes of Murali Vijay and Shane Watson have previously done so in the IPL, neither seems to be at the crest of their abilities, meaning that the burden has unsurprisingly fallen on the middle order.
During CSK’s early years of success, they usually had Albie Morkel, Dwayne Bravo and above all, an MS Dhoni who was at the peak of his powers. Inevitably, the cracks that slower beginnings provided, would be papered over by the brute force the trio brought to the fore. Unfortunately, though, that is a luxury CSK just don’t have currently.
MS Dhoni is nowhere close to his best, Albie Morkel no longer plays cricket and Dwayne Bravo is more of a bowler than a batsman these days. On the other hand, their replacements – players such as Kedar Jadhav and Ravindra Jadeja, just don’t fit that profile.
Kedar Jadhav, much like MS Dhoni, is a sluggish starter while Ravindra Jadeja seems unable to translate his batting talent into consistently tangible returns. As for Sam Curran, the Englishman seems equipped to perform a role similar to what Albie Morkel did all those years ago. However, expecting him to do so represents an arduous task, even for someone as talented as Curran.
CSK have struggled chasing tall targets in IPL 2020
Though CSK were under the pump against the Royals having conceded a total in excess of 200, they seemed the team in the ascendancy when coming out to bat against the Capitals, considering they had to scale down a target that was a shade under par.
Yet, somehow, the approach to build slowly fell flat on its face and spectacularly at that. Murali Vijay and Shane Watson ate up too many deliveries at the start and perished when trying to increase the scoring rate.
Ruturaj Gaikwad too, seemed to be bogged down by what his illustrious teammates had brought upon themselves and seemed a pale shadow of the batsman that has dominated domestic cricket recently.
And then, as always, the conundrum surrounding MS Dhoni’s batting position took centre stage. Though the wicket-keeper showcased intent from the outset this time round, it eventually proved futile, considering he arrived with the required run rate nudging 19 runs per over.
Thus, for the first time in their IPL history, there seem to be chinks in CSK’s batting armor – something that was perhaps the gold standard in franchise cricket.
More tellingly though, the philosophy that has gotten CSK so far, seems to be their undoing, meaning that they might just have to throw it out of the window and adopt a strategy that suits the players at their disposal.
So far though, CSK have seemed shell-shocked that their trusted method has gone so wrong and so often recently. If one were to be a little stricter, they’ve also been a touch reluctant and even a bit stubborn, considering that they’re being asked to ditch an ideology that only few (if any) have been able to perfect. In fact, it is a methodology that is novel to CSK.
Off the bat, it might be an aspect that will keep bothering CSK, not just because changing is sometimes perceived as a sign of defeat but also because CSK has been built upon the principle of continuity, both in terms of their playing style and their personnel.
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Yet, with T20 cricket evolving periodically, CSK run the risk of being left behind if they are unable to mend their ways – something that might be unacceptable to an outfit that takes pride in its performances.
After all, MS Dhoni - the captain who embodies the archetypal poker player, rarely gives things away in press conferences. And, when he says that CSK are losing steam and that they need to rectify it, one can bet one’s life that that has already caused more than a furrowed brow or two.
In fact, it also seems a shade ironic that CSK’s potential doomsday is dovetailing with the twilight of MS Dhoni’s career. But then again, not many cricketers have personified a team in a manner similar to how MS Dhoni has done for CSK.
And, perhaps, that is the kryptonite that CSK and MS Dhoni have to overcome right now. Over the years, they’ve done so with aplomb. Yet, this time, there just seems to be another layer of difficulty added to it, doesn’t it?Published 26 Sep 2020, 10:25 IST