IPL 2018: CSK show the value of experience to stun age-mockers
They were called the "Uncles". They were trolled for picking too many players perceived to be past their prime. And yet, the Chennai Super Kings became the first team to enter the final of IPL 2018.
CSK's squad comprises of 11 players aged 30 and above. Assuming at least seven of them to feature in every match, that is approximately two-thirds of the playing XI in the last stage of their respective careers.
Captain MS Dhoni has been honest to admit throughout the tournament that he doesn't expect his side to be exceptional in the field, and is content with them being "safe". In return, he along with the team management banked on the experience of these players to win games under pressure. Indeed, the faith was repaid whenever the situation demanded something special.
"They're 35-36, not 55-56. A massive amount has been made of it. I'm not here to develop young players, I'm here to try and win the competition for the franchise. And that's why we value experience, because we think that gives us the best chance. Yes, it is exciting to see young players come and perform. But over a long season, I look for consistency and professionalism. I've found that older players who are still motivated, still fit and still committed, they can provide you consistency that gets you up around mid to top table, which allows you to progress in the competition." - coach Stephen Fleming
In the very first game of the season, the Super Kings were precariously placed in a 166-run chase. They needed 47 to win from 3 overs with only 2 wickets in hand.
Just when the result seemed a foregone conclusion, Dwayne Bravo (34 years old) played the best T20 innings of his life to script a scarcely believable comeback, which was completed by an injured Kedar Jadhav (32) who kept his composure to hit a six and a four in the last over. This victory set the tone for a series of breathtaking last-over wins for the men in yellow.
Two weeks later, Shane Watson (36) seemingly turned back the clock as he scored his third IPL century to set up a commanding win over Rajasthan Royals.
But it is his opening partner, Ambati Rayudu (32), who is enjoying the season of his life. He has already amassed 586 runs in the tournament, making the most of opportunities that eluded him throughout his stint with Mumbai Indians, and has also earned a recall to the Indian ODI squad.
Few would have expected MS Dhoni to bat the way he has this IPL. The control in his shots, his presence at the crease, the precision of his big-hitting and above all, his consistency at finishing games- he is batting as well as he used to in his prime.
Harbhajan Singh (37) and Imran Tahir (38) have also made important contributions by providing control in the middle overs.
Suresh Raina (31) has scored 413 runs including four half-centuries, despite it being a sub-par season by his standards.
Faf du Plessis (33) showed all his experience in a high-pressure run chase in the first qualifier against Sunrisers Hyderabad, to guide his team home in another tense finish. The move of him being retained at the auction through the RTM card was also questioned, but he justified the trust shown in him by the franchise.
The exuberance of youth is a big part of modern-day cricket, particularly T20, where their agility and innovation impresses the spectators. However, in crunch situations, one's ability to hold their nerve and assess the situation proves to be the difference between winning and losing.
As they say, you can't buy experience off the shelf. CSK have been there six times before, and players in their squad have been there on many more occasions. Will their seventh final appearance translate into a third title? Time will tell, but not many will be brave enough to bank against them now.
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