It is a strange sight for cricket lovers to see the most consistent team of the Indian Premier League (IPL) languishing at the bottom of the points table. The Chennai Super Kings (CSK) are placed eighth in IPL 2020 after losing three of their opening four games.
Their problems went from bad to worse after they lost their third consecutive game against the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) last night despite the return of fit-again Ambati Rayudu and all-rounder Dwayne Bravo.
While the focus is on CSK’s fragile middle-order and captain MS Dhoni’s ideal slot in it, they have struggled to get going at the top as well. Teams must maximise the powerplay overs and get off to a flying start in order to post a competitive total on the board.
Unfortunately, the Chennai-based franchise’s opening partnership averages a mere 22 runs in the four games played so far. That still doesn’t reflect the real picture as the number got boosted by a 56-run stand between Shane Watson and Murali Vijay in CSK’s second fixture against the Rajasthan Royals.
In the other games, they have lost the first wicket before the 25-run mark in three of the four matches played. Even more remarkably, the average runs scored between the fall of the first and second wicket is just nine.
The above numbers suggest that the already-fragile middle-order is getting exposed as early as the end of the mandatory field restrictions, and this adds to the pressure of the loss of early wickets. If there is a total to chase, the scoreboard also adds to the pressure-cooker situation.
In the bowling department, CSK have failed to make inroads in the middle stages of the innings, thus paving the way for the opposition to build a solid partnership before going hammer and tongs in the end overs.
Ironically, their spinners have failed to exploit the UAE wickets, whose sluggish nature is known to aid spin. Piyush Chawla has conceded 128 runs off 90 deliveries, while Ravindra Jadeja has been smashed for 142 runs off 84 balls. Chawla, however, has taken five wickets so far in the tournament.
How can CSK turn things around?
Considering the lean patch opener Shane Watson is going through at the moment, MS Dhoni and Co can think of including either of Imran Tahir or Josh Hazelwood in Watson’s place to strengthen their bowling attack.
While leg-spinner Tahir, who won the Purple Cap in IPL 2019, is an excellent option to pull strings in the middle overs, Aussie fast bowler Hazlewood can stem the flow of runs in the powerplay overs.
Adding a bowler to last night’s playing eleven means that everyone would move one slot up in the batting order. CSK can open the innings with Faf du Plessis and Ambati Rayudu, both of whom have been hitting the ball well in the recent past and have donned the opener’s role in previous editions of the IPL.
A great partnership at the top of the order would take some of the pressure away from Kedar Jadhav, who, coming in at No. 3, can see himself in. Jadhav would also know that skipper MS Dhoni would be in next and can steady the ship if anything goes wrong, while not having to deal with the pressure of providing the finishing touches to the innings.
That is because CSK's all-rounder triumvirate of Ravindra Jadeja, Sam Curran and Dwayne Bravo can take the onus of taking it deep and hitting a few lusty blows at the death. While both Bravo and Curran can go all guns blazing from the very first ball, Jadeja’s 50 off 35 balls last night also augurs well for the CSK batting line-up.
Another option would be to send Sam Curran in at No. 3. His aggressive approach to batting can be used both for counter-attacking after the loss of early wickets and to maintain the steady flow of runs after a big partnership.
For the record, the English all-rounder played a similar role for the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) in IPL 2019, and even smashed a 23-ball half-century against the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR).
Even if CSK do not choose to deploy Curran as a floater, they should make sure that both Kedar Jadhav and MS Dhoni are allowed to ease themselves into the innings and not get exposed to crunch situations too often.
In fact, CSK became the only side in IPL 2020 to score less than 50 runs between overs 7 and 15 last night. They scored 43 runs and lost the wicket of Kedar Jadhav in that period.
CSK currently have got a lot of holes to plug – from rejuvenating the batting order to strengthening their bowling attack. These are the kind of problems that may come to the fore when they play a power-packed KXIP in their next match on Sunday.
CSK's 'Captain Cool' has got a lot of thinking to do, including putting the debates surrounding his own batting position to bed.Published 03 Oct 2020, 16:27 IST