IPL 2019: Chennai Super Kings mid-season analysis
Chennai Super Kings find themselves leading the IPL points table mid-way through the group stage, with 12 points from 7 matches and an NRR of 0.299.
The defending champions started off with a win against Royal Challengers Bangalore that was characterized by restrictive spin bowling from Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja. That was then followed by a 6 wicket win on a sluggish pitch against Delhi Capitals.
A narrow victory against Rajasthan Royals followed, where a late burst of sixes from MS Dhoni and an excellent last over from Dwayne Bravo put the Super Kings ahead despite a late flurry of runs from Ben Stokes. Bravo would then be taken for 29 runs by Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard in the final over against Mumbai Indians, with CSK losing to them by 37 runs.
A 22-run victory against Kings XI Punjab came next, where Tahir, Harbhajan and Jadeja restricted KL Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan in the middle overs to such an extent that they were left with too much to do at the end. Deepak Chahar's wickets helped ensure a 7-wicket win against Kolkata Knight Riders after that, and a last-ball six from Mitchell Santner ensured a 4-wicket win against Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur in a match that saw an irate Dhoni argue with the umpires over a poor no-ball decision.
Dhoni is also currently the team's leading run-scorer with 214 runs from 5 innings, including two half-centuries. The skipper is the only CSK player in the top 10 list for the Orange Cap race; no other batsman in the team has more than 140 runs, with Kedhar Jadhav (115), Suresh Raina (136), Shane Watson (105), Faf du Plessis (104), and Ambati Rayudu (133) performing below their usual standards.
Jadhav, Rayudu and Du Plessis are the only other batsmen to have scored half-centuries with one apiece. Out of these players, Du Plessis has played only three games while the others have played all seven.
Deepak Chahar is currently their leading wicket-taker with 10 wickets, often bowling his four overs upfront in the innings. Imran Tahir leads their spin bowling with 9 wickets, supported by Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja with 7 wickets each.
Dwayne Bravo also has 7 wickets to his name but has been inconsistent in bowling during the death overs, with an economy rate of 9.36. Shardul Thakur has 4 wickets to his name but has a poor economy rate of 10.14 so far.
The spinners have been crucial so far, taking wickets and restricting run-scoring during the middle overs. None of Harbhajan (5.12), Jadeja (5.50), or Tahir (5.61) has an economy rate over 6.
Their fielding has been excellent too, as they have taken 29 out of 32 chances. They have also been the best users of the Decision Review System in the tournament, with two successful reviews out of three.
More runs from the batsmen is what Chennai will be looking for in the latter half of the group stage. Batting at Chennai has been difficult due to the slow pitch, but batsmen like Du Plessis, Dhoni and Kolkata Knight Riders' Andre Russell have shown that runs are possible, especially when you are set.
From the bowling perspective, other effective death bowling options are in short supply. Deepak Chahar and Scott Kuggeleijn have been tried there with mixed results. Mohit Sharma is an option to consider.
Tahir and Du Plessis will not be available towards the end of the tournament, as they both will be busy preparing with the South African squad for the World Cup 2019. Either of Karn Sharma or Mitchell Santner is an option to play in place of Tahir, with Santner providing them with additional batting depth.
They could also consider playing Murali Vijay and Sam Billings at some point during the tournament. For now though, they have most of the departments covered, and look set to canter to the playoffs yet again.