Riding a five-game win streak, Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 table-toppers Chennai Super Kings (CSK) have exceeded all expectations. The Men in Yellow, who finished a lowly seventh last year, have announced themselves as the early favourites for the title.
CSK face off against eternal rivals Mumbai Indians (MI) on May 1. They won't take the matchup lightly, although they are better placed than the five-time champions in IPL 2021. Rohit Sharma's side are coming off a morale-boosting win over bogey team Rajasthan Royals, and seem primed to go on a winning run in the latter half of the tournament.
To ensure that they're at their best against MI, CSK have a few questions to answer. On that note, let's take a look at three areas of concern CSK need to address ahead of their IPL 2021 clash against the defending champions.
#3 CSK's pacers need to be comfortable with bowling in the middle overs and at the death
CSK's spinners have been accurate and have taken wickets in IPL 2021. Both Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali have kept a stranglehold in the middle overs, rarely conceding boundaries and bowling consecutive dot balls to build pressure on the batsmen.
But when there's no turn on offer, CSK have struggled to contain the flow of runs with their pacers. While Deepak Chahar is primarily a powerplay bowler, captain MS Dhoni has been reluctant to use Sam Curran in the middle overs. With Shardul Thakur leaking runs at an alarming rate, CSK have been without an attacking pace option in the middle overs and at the death.
Lungi Ngidi and Dwayne Bravo have been impressive in IPL 2021, but they haven't had support from the other end. As a result, CSK have let many matches slip before they made up for that by excelling in other departments. Nevertheless, the three-time champions will be wary of this weakness against an MI team that has a formidable middle order.
#2 CSK aren't getting the most out of their lower-order batsmen
In a team stacked with talent, some players are bound to be underutilised. In CSK's case, it's the middle order comprising Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Sam Curran and Dwayne Bravo.
Dhoni has faced only 30 balls in six games, while Curran (25) has faced even fewer. Jadeja has been superb with the bat this season and has earned a promotion up the order on occasion, but that has left Ambati Rayudu without anything to do in the playing XI. Bravo, too, hasn't been needed often with the bat when he has played ahead of Ngidi.
This is an area of concern for CSK, even though their top order has been doing its job. But as coach Stephen Fleming remarked earlier, the middle order needs to spend time at the crease to get better. And Curran, in particular, is a far better batsman than his current batting position suggests.
CSK need to find a way to give their middle-order batsmen some valuable balls to face.
#1 CSK's bowling attack hasn't been great when there's no help on offer
As already mentioned, Chahar and Curran have operated mainly in the powerplay. While they've been next to unplayable when there's assistance on offer from the conditions or off the deck, they've been distinctly pedestrian, otherwise.
Chahar has been taken to the cleaners whenever he has pitched the ball short. He has often had to rely on his knuckle ball and other variations to get him through overs when the ball isn't swinging. Curran, meanwhile, has been a bit more smart with his cutters, but he has had a few bad overs where things have gone completely awry.
With both their spinners not really used to bowling in the powerplay, CSK need to find a way to keep opposition batsmen in check when there's no help from the pitch. MS Dhoni employed a couple of interesting field placements in the previous game that had Jonny Bairstow and David Warner struggling for placement and timing, and he could build on those against MI.
CSK could also consider using Moeen Ali in the powerplay for the first time this season, given MI opener Quinton de Kock's troubles against spin bowling.