Although the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) had a highly disappointing campaign in the last edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), expectations are high this year. MS Dhoni's men come into IPL 2021 with a few interesting auction purchases and trades, and also welcome the return of vice-captain Suresh Raina.
While Raina will bat at No. 3 like he always has for the 3-time IPL champions, the two spots above him are up for grabs. CSK used a number of openers last year, and the arrival of Robin Uthappa from the Rajasthan Royals only complicates matters.
CSK's squad for IPL 2021: MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, KM Asif, Deepak Chahar, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, N Jagadeesan, Karn Sharma, Lungi Ngidi, Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shardul Thakur, Sam Curran, Josh Hazlewood, R Sai Kishore, Robin Uthappa, Moeen Ali, Krishnappa Gowtham, Cheteshwar Pujara, M Harisankar Reddy, K Bhagath Varma, C Hari Nishaanth
Among the above squad, Ambati Rayudu, Faf du Plessis, N Jagadeesan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Sam Curran, Robin Uthappa and C Hari Nishaanth are all capable of batting at the top of the order.
In this article, we predict CSK's opening combination for IPL 2021.
What did CSK do in IPL 2020?
CSK used a number of openers in IPL 2020. They kicked off their campaign by fielding Murali Vijay and Shane Watson at the top of the order, but soon lost faith in the former. Du Plessis then partnered Watson from the fourth game onwards, but this meant that the terribly out-of-form Kedar Jadhav had to bat at No. 4.
A 10-wicket win against the Punjab Kings ensured that Du Plessis and Watson got an extended run as the IPL opening partnership, before Sam Curran was promoted in a game against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. That experiment lasted only 3 games, and with CSK all but out of playoff reckoning, they turned to their youngsters.
Ruturaj Gaikwad bagged a duck in his first IPL game as opener, but made fifties in each of the remaining three matches to draw praise from all corners of the cricketing fraternity for his poise and class. One constant at the other end was Du Plessis, who finished as the team's leading run-getter and was by far their best batsman.
Faf du Plessis and Ruturaj Gaikwad likely to open the batting for CSK in IPL 2021
CSK are likely to continue with the same combination of Faf du Plessis and Ruturaj Gaikwad in IPL 2021, despite the presence of a number of alternatives.
N Jagadeesan has scored a mountain of runs in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and is on the fringes of the CSK playing XI. Ambati Rayudu has opened the innings to great success for the team in the past, and could make the most of the field restrictions in the powerplay.
New recruit Robin Uthappa struggled in a middle-order role for the Rajasthan Royals, and a move up to an opening slot truly seemed to free him up. He is perhaps the best contender to displace either Du Plessis or Gaikwad, given his exceptional IPL record as an opener.
But his inclusion would mean that either Rayudu or Du Plessis would have to miss out from the playing XI altogether, since it would be a waste to field them at No. 5. This is a highly unlikely scenario, as both batsmen have been consistent performers and have the faith of captain MS Dhoni.
Sam Curran can solve CSK's problem of not making the most of the powerplay, and it was only the extremely slow pitches in the second half of IPL 2020 that prevented him from making a mark as an opener. He certainly has a case to replace either Gaikwad or Du Plessis, but CSK may not go down that route early in the tournament.
Moreover, Gaikwad and Du Plessis form a fruitful Indian-overseas, youthful-experienced partnership that augurs well for the side. While the 24-year-old hasn't been in great form in eye-catching cricket and the Proteas veteran doesn't have a lot of international cricket under his belt in the recent past, they should be good to go after an intense training camp.
Gaikwad and Du Plessis will look to continue from where they left off in the final group-stage games of IPL 2020, and help CSK made a deep run into the playoffs.