“Definitely not.”- Those were the words of CSK's ‘Thala’- MS Dhoni last season, when asked if he was done with the IPL.
The Super Kings had just endured their toughest season - their first one not ending in a playoff berth. The IPL being shifted to the UAE, COVID cases in the team, players misfiring, misdirected strategies and MSD himself failing - all played an equally important role in this rare failure of the league’s most consistent team. They had some serious thinking to do before next season - which was less than 6 months away.
There were cries for a complete revamp of the team, and with a mega-auction scheduled, CSK were expected to reform the entire team. But due to time constraints, the mega- auction was canceled, the cycle was extended, and a mini auction was held.
Nevertheless, CSK held their own and made some smart buys. A major thorn in their flesh last season was the lack of a quality off-spinner - a role which Ravi Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh had performed exquisitely over the years.
They bid fiercely for Glenn Maxwell, but settled for the next best choice in Moeen Ali, for a fair 7 Cr price tag. They then added Krishnappa Gowtham as an Indian backup for Ali- another smart move, albeit an overpriced one. The auction had been a success.
Now with the IPL caravan moving back to India, CSK had been given a new lease of life. UAE had not been kind to them. They had centered their team around the 22 yards at Chepauk and had struggled to adapt to vastly different conditions in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
The 2020 season brought an anticlimactic end to a glorious era. But CSK now have another chance to right their wrongs and give themselves - and their fans- the closure they deserve. They certainly have the firepower to do so.
CSK are much better equipped to go all the way this year
CSK are much more well-rounded than last season and are strong playoff contenders and challengers to the throne as well.
Ruturaj Gaikwad showed his potential at the top of the order towards the end of last season and has continued his good form alongside Du Plessis, who brings loads of experience to the opening partnership. With the return of Suresh Raina, the middle order looks more settled and fluid with Ali, Rayudu, Jadeja, Dhoni and Curran having the ability to move up and down the order as the situation demands.
Curran showed glimpses of his batting prowess against India and alongside Jadeja, forms a pair that can score runs very quickly at the death and turn a match on its head. They also have Uthappa - who has been in red-hot form at the domestic level - waiting in the wings, thus spoiling them for options.
Even on the bowling front, Chahar has been exceptional at the top, with Curran making a handy partner for him with the new ball. Jason Beherendoff, Bravo and Lungi Ngidi are more than capable options as well - once again demonstrating CSK’s impressive bench strength.
And with the addition of Moeen Ali, CSK once again have a spin arsenal that can single-handedly snatch matches from the jaws of defeat.
And to cap it off, Sir Jadeja is omnipresent in the field, and as Deepak Chahar put it - we would love to have 11 of him out there. In Jadeja, Ali and Curran- CSK have three of the best allrounders in the league among their ranks.
Speaking of Moeen Ali, he has been the find of the season so far - not only for CSK, but for the IPL. Confined to the bench last year by RCB, he has risen to the occasion and delivered.
Sending him in at No.3 was a masterstroke and he provides the much-needed impetus in the role alongside some very handy off-spin against southpaws. Buying him at the auction tied up multiple loose ends for CSK and makes them extremely dangerous at their best.
So, in conclusion, despite the tournament moving to UAE for its latter part, the Super Kings will feel confident of doing well. The horrors of 2020 are well and truly behind them.
They have identified the problems and solved them spectacularly to create a team that can deliver in any condition, on any pitch, anywhere in the world. Moreover, given their position in the table, they will certainly back themselves to go all the way. With a team packed with proven match-winners and talented youth, this additional season in the cycle could very well be a blessing in disguise for them.
Not only have they unearthed and identified Curran, Ali, Shardul, Chahar and Gaikwad as men for the future, but they are the dangerous underdogs in the tournament and have one final shot to deliver a perfect season and bring home some much-needed closure to end a glorious era.