Winning Bizness Sports Desk
Chennai Super Kings (CSK) has won two out of its three encounters so far and one of these was against giants and five-time IPL champions Mumbai Indians (MI). CSK will be buoyed by this victory as it has come in an away game in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.
Situated close to the sea on Mumbai’s iconic Marine Drive, the Wankhede is considered a Mumbai Indians fortress where the general consensus is that it is almost impossible to defeat the Mukesh Ambani-owned and Rohit Sharma-captained team. But the weekend clash on April 8 saw CSK thoroughly outplay the five-time IPL champions.
CSK which has won the title four times, will be buoyed by this victory as it has been at the receiving end in its recent encounters with the Mumbai franchise. The MS Dhoni-led CSK had a very forgettable season last year (2022) when it finished just above Mumbai Indians at ninth position on the table. MI finished last.
The fall must have proved very humiliating indeed as CSK had won the title in 2021 when most cricket pundits had written-off the franchise, derisively calling it Dad’s Army for selecting what many thought were old players past their prime. However, it was the experience and skill-sets of these veterans—Shane Watson, Robin Uthappa, MSD himself, Ambati Rayudu, Moeen Ali, Imran Tahir and others which won the trophy for Chennai Super Kings and sent its fans into raptures.
Fans then called CSK Everybody’s Daddy but the 2022 season proved a dampener.
2023 is a fresh start for CSK and the team has begun the season well despite its loss to Gujarat Titans in the season opener. It has won the next two games very convincingly and the win against Mumbai Indians, especially, should be a big morale-booster. It augurs well for the rest of the season.
What has changed for CSK is that both its batters and bowlers have come to the party. On the batting side, Ruturaj Gaikwad has been consistent in all the three matches so far as his knocks of 92 off 50 balls against Gujarat Titans, 57 off 31 balls versus LSG and a very valuable and measured 40 not out against Mumbai Indians off 36 balls testify.
Unfortunately, Gaikwad’s opening partner, Devon Conway has not struck form but he is a class player and one feels that a biggie from him is just around the corner. Shivam Dube who has been criticised in the past for not living up to expectations has conjured-up some cameos and there is no denying the fact that his contributions were valuable to CSK in its victories so far.
The 29-year-old from Mumbai is a former international having played one ODI and 13 T20s for India in the past. He began the season with a 19 off 18 balls against Gujarat Titans, then teed-off to a dashing 27 off 16 balls (strike rate of 168.75) with one four and three sixes against LSG and then a very useful 28 off 26 balls at a strike rate of 107.69 against Mumbai Indians.
Ravindra Jadeja took three wickets for just 20 runs against MI but he has yet to really come to the party. His spin partner, the experienced Kiwi Mitchell Santner has, however, made his presence felt by snapping one wicket for just 21 runs off his four overs against LSG and two wickets for 28 runs against MI. He was economical against Gujarat Titans in the first match as well.
When Maheesh Theekshana joins the squad, the CSK team management will have a difficult choice on its hands—whether to play Santner or drop him for the Sri Lankan spinner, who, today is one of the best bowlers in the shorter formats of the game. A point to be highlighted here is that Santner is not only a safe fielder but one who can wield the long handle in the latter part of the innings. CSK’s choice of players then will be interesting indeed.
The 37-year-old Ambati Rayudu, another key personnel of the Dad’s Army has also contributed effectively in CSK’s two victories. A 27 off a mere 14 balls against LSG (strike rate of 192.85) and a 20 off 16 balls (strike rate of 125) against Mumbai Indians is clear evidence that Rayudu has lost none of his regal touch despite his advancing years.
And then there is Ajinkya Rahane, who to the astonishment of all at the Wankhede Stadium smashed the fastest 50 of the season till then. A breath-taking 61 off just a mere 27 balls with seven fours and three sixes at a strike rate of 225.92 totally demolished Mumbai Indians.
(Since then, however, Rahane has been overtaken by Nicholas Pooran who scored an astounding 19-ball 62 for LSG against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on April 10. His fifty came off just 15 balls whereas Rahane scored his off 19 balls).
Other players such as Dwaine Pretorius, Tushar Deshpande and the just-arrived South African pacer Sisanda Magala have also contributed their mite towards CSK’s cause.
Tushar has upped his performance in the last two matches while Pretorius was his usual parsimonious self against MI, giving away just 28 runs in his four overs. Magala went for 37 runs but took the crucial wicket of fellow South African Tristan Stubbs.
Magala is a character and enjoys his cricket—he had a fiery baptism in the IPL, being taken for 14 runs in his first over but displayed great character and fighting qualities to come back to end his spell of four overs for 37 runs and one wicket. Here a point that needs highlighting is that Magala, a death-overs specialist was forced to operate in the power-play—the third over itself—as Deepak Chahar had to leave the field following a hamstring injury.
CSK’s three-match journey so far will not be complete without a few words on the legendary thala—Mahendra Singh Dhoni—whose captaincy skills had as much to do with CSK’s victories as the on-field performances of its players.
CSK’s team selection has been spot-on and the Dhoni touch was clearly visible in the selections, especially against Mumbai Indians. Rahane who was not in the playing eleven in the first two matches was brought-in specially for the match given that he is a Mumbaikar thoroughly familiar with the Wankhede ground. And Rahane repaid the faith that MSD had in him.
Two other Mumbaikars were also retained in the playing eleven despite some criticism against them for not living up to expectations. The two were Shivam Dube and Tushar Deshpande. Both, however, acquitted themselves very creditably in the match and vindicated CSK and MS Dhoni’s continuing faith in them.
Significantly, in this match two CSK heavyweights — Moeen Ali and England captain Ben Stokes—were not in the playing eleven. The fact that despite the absence of this world-class duo, CSK managed to beard MI in its own den of Wankhede speaks volumes of the way MS Dhoni led CSK in this match. And his decision to review Suryakumar Yadav’s catch through the DRS is just one more feather in his cap.
The Chennai franchise’s next match on April 12 is against Rajasthan Royals and will be played at the Chepauk and CSK starts as strong favourites.
However, nothing can be taken for granted in the IPL as the last few matches have shown.
The seemingly impossible was achieved in the last two games with both of them going down to the wire and being decided on the last ball. Rinku Singh’s five consecutive sixes for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) against Gujarat Titans on Sunday followed by LSG’s last ball victory against RCB on Monday accompanied by lots of drama including an attempted run-out at the non-striker’s end by the bowler (Harshal Patel) only added to the burgeoning excitement of this year’s IPL.
The Chepauk is CSK’s fortress but the way the tournament has progressed so far should alert CSK to the fact that the other teams have the capability to upset CSK on its home-ground.
The MS Dhoni-led team has begun this season’s IPL well; how far it advances in the tournament will depend solely on how consistent its players are, how quickly they remedy their shortcomings and how strongly they deliver going forward. There is no room for complacency; every CSK player will have to be on his toes, play to his strengths and give his hundred per cent if CSK is to win the title for the fifth team.