IPL 2019: Chennai Super Kings - average on paper, overachievers on the field
A nail-biting final, ending with a one-run victory for the Mumbai Indians, handed the Yellow Brigade their fifth loss in eight finals; the number of finals they have lost is the most number of the times any other team has managed to reach there. That sums up the success the Chennai Super Kings have had in the IPL.
Before and after the suspension, CSK had one major difference; compromising agility on the field for experience. The 2018 auctions saw them investing in players with huge amount of experience despite most of them being on the wrong side of 30. The result was for everyone to see. They did not rely on any single player and had multiple match winners in the XI.
The 2019 season saw them becoming the first team to reach the playoffs, but the prolonged lean patch of the batsmen did hurt them in the later stages of the league. However, all the good work done in the first half ensured they stayed in the top two of the points table.
Coming to 2019, they had the same squad, with Mohit Sharma being the notable addition. But unlike 2018, injuries plagued them even before the tournament started. Just when Lungi Ngidi was being considered as the pace spearhead for CSK, he was ruled out of the tournament with an injury. With Bravo not in best of forms, CSK were short of proper death bowling options. David Willey's unavailability was another dent.
But CSK are known for turning their weaknesses into strengths, and they continued doing the same. Deepak Chahar was given the role to finish with the ball and by the end of the season, he goes out as one of the most impressive Indian seamers. Bravo was used wisely and the use of Shardul in the finals to bounce out Krunal and Hardik was a masterstroke.
Fielding was always going to be the major chink in their armoury considering the age and fitness of the players. MS Dhoni has been honest in admitting this fact since last year. The same cost them a bit this year too, but that is something they have accepted and compromised for experience with the bat and ball. That approach was proven right by two veterans Imran Tahir and Harbhajan Singh with their brilliant performances with the ball.
As the season progressed, the likes of Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson, Suresh Raina and Kedar Jadhav became a cause of concern with their prolonged lean patch, so much so that Rayudu and Jadhav were scoring at a strike rate below 100 in the middle order. Faf came into the side after Rayudu's initial struggles at the top, but he too lacked a bit of consistency until the last few matches. Sam Billings was not tried for long and Watson was persisted with, keeping in mind the unavailability of Billings for national duties
The below par batting made them over-reliant on the skipper, who single-handedly bailed them out of trouble multiple times from different situations. Moreover, the batsmen below him, Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja, did not do much too. A side known to turn weaknesses into strengths was in a situation where their biggest asset became their biggest liability; their batting.
This is where the importance of their team culture comes in. If there is one franchise which backs the players till extremities, it has to be CSK. No team would have given a 38-year old retired international a longer rope after averaging 11 and having a strike of 112 after 10 games. But CSK persisted with Watson, like they have done with many others over the years, and he repaid the faith with a 96 against SRH. Cometh the finals, the big man was at it again, almost taking CSK over the line single-handedly.
The way CSK lost the two games when Dhoni was not playing gave an impression of what he brings in, not only as a batsman but also as a skipper. Player-by-player comparison with other teams would suggest CSK to be an average side, but with MSD on the field, they always found a way.
A weak fielding side, no proper death bowlers, side with the weakest batting order in terms of performances this year, a number of key players injured and yet Chennai Super Kings lost the final by just one run. That is what CSK symbolises: an average team on paper, overachievers on the field. Like Anil Kumble mentioned after the 2018 auctions, a side with rating 6 out of 10 on paper becomes 9 out of 10 with MS Dhoni on the field.
The loss in the final will hurt for a while, but the fact that the Super Kings managed to reach there and play like demands admiration and respect. Thank you Chennai Super Kings for the memories, come back stronger next season.