On 7 April, the Indian Premier League started its eleventh edition with the match between three-time champions Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, who were making their comeback into the tournament after a two-year suspension.
Mumbai managed a sub-par total of 165 at Wankhede and almost pulled off a victory. However, Dwayne Bravo, one of the four players retained by CSK in the 2018 auctions, had other plans.
At the end of a pulsating opening day's action, there was just one star and that was Bravo who bowled a tidy spell of 3-0-12-0 in the death overs and smashed 68 off 30 balls to ensure Chennai ended on the right side of that close encounter.
On Friday, in the match against bottom-placed Delhi Daredevils, Bravo went for 26 off the last over as Vijay Shankar and uncapped Indian player Harshal Patel smashed him all over the ground and he ended up giving 38 runs in the death overs. Bravo's overall figures of 4-0-52-0 were his worst-ever. Interestingly, his previous worst figures also came in this year's IPL when he gave away 50 runs in three overs against a rampaging Kolkata Knight Riders on 10 April at Chennai.
The Twenty20 format is unforgiving: a man who was the toast of the Indian Premier League on the opening day of the season has been off-colour for the rest of the season — a major worry for the CSK think-tank. MS Dhoni and head of coaching staff Stephen Fleming haven't been able to find a bowler well-equipped to share the burden of bowling at the death alongside Bravo and with the Caribbean bowler himself not firing, the death bowling has become the crack in the dam that is getting bigger with every subsequent match.
Bravo's inconsistency at the death overs has been a major reason why the team prefer chasing down a score relying on their famed batting line-up, which consists of names like Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson and MS Dhoni himself.
Death bowling is not an easy art to master. Bowling at the death invariably can lead to a high economy rate and Bravo's 11.7 this season stands as testament for this. However, it is more about the manner of how those runs were scored rather than the leaked runs that has dented Chennai's campaign this season.
A weapon in an arsenal is potent only until it produces the required result. The famed slower balls from Bravo aren't novel anymore. The batsmen come well prepared and seem to be at ease in anticipating Bravo's deliveries.
Out of the 287 runs he has given in the 24.3 overs he has bowled at the death, he has been whacked for 21 sixes and 14 fours. This amounts to a whopping 63.4 percent runs conceded by him coming just in boundaries.
His slower, back-of-length ball, that used to make him an asset in the death overs, has reduced him to a very ordinary-looking bowler this season.
The other major concern about Bravo's bowling in this season is the lack of variation and the inability to mix and match deliveries when being hit on his stock deliveries. The absence of fleet-footed thinking, a quality that saw him become the first bowler to win two purple caps, is hurting Bravo and CSK dearly.
For someone who has a career strike rate of 17.16, Bravo's 27.66 in 2018 has been yet another reason for CSK's plans to heavily rely on the batting. Even Bravo's bowling average is at a high 47 when compared to his 23.97 career average.
In almost every post-match presentation, CSK captain MS Dhoni cuts a sorry figure when talking about the bowling of the team and his now constant answer about the death bowling woes of the team is that there is no point planning so much when the execution falters consistently.
While Bravo's bowling continues to be a concern in this edition of the IPL, his batting too hasn't quite come to the fore for the Chennai Super Kings.
Apart from his chanceless innings of 68 in the opening match of the IPL, the 34-year-old has managed to score just 66 runs in the next 12 matches.
While his first 68 runs came in 30 balls, the next 66 runs came in 50. With an impressive top-order and unsettled batting line-up, Bravo gets to face very few balls, but he has not exactly made those chances count either.
CSK does overtly depend on the services of Bravo, who is undoubtedly one of the best all-rounders in the Chennai squad. However, with a truckload of problems already plaguing the experience-heavy CSK, the team cannot afford Bravo to be one more.
With the playoffs berth confirmed and a third title in sight, Dhoni and the entire Chennai team would look forward to the talismanic West Indian regaining his mojo and be the smiling wicket-taker he has fashioned himself over the years, before it is too late for both Bravo and the Chennai Super Kings.