Chennai Super Kings won another game at Chepauk. It’s a familiar, almost boring headline now. Their winning streak at the ground dates back till 2015. Yes, they were out of IPL for two seasons during this time, and couldn’t play much at home last season but losing only one out of the last 17 games at this ground is a commendable effort. Such domination of one playing arena has the makings of Rafa at Roland Garros.
The pitch at MA Chidambaram stadium has faced a lot of criticism, none more vocal than home captain Dhoni himself. After every low scoring game that their team wins comfortably, he goes on a long rant about the slowness of the wicket, how his batsmen don’t enjoy it, and why things will be different when the team is on the road.
You can argue that the pitch doesn’t provide the best entertainment to Chennai’s adoring crowd as they don’t get to see too many sixes (the loyal home fans will be happy as long as they get to celebrate the win though). But you can’t say that the pitch doesn’t provide fair competition.
Some pitches are a lottery. When they turn square from day one of a Test match, it could be anyone’s game based on who plays and misses more. Case in point, the pitch for the Pune Test between India and Australia in 2017. That rank turner of a pitch was prepared to help the home team’s cause, but it ended up giving a chance to the visitors who got the better rub of the green and managed to defeat the home team at its own game.
The pitch at Chennai is slow and low, but the reason for CSK’s domination is their better planning and adaptability to suit its nature. Out of the four games they have played in Chennai, Dhoni’s team have batted first twice and have posted totals of 160 and 175. When the away teams have batted first, they have struggled to cross the total of 100.
In leagues across the world, teams do anything within the rules of the game to get the home advantage. Chennai’s opponents from last night also benefited from the home advantage and prepared turning pitches during their successful home campaigns when they had Sunil Narine at the top of his bowling form and batsmen who were adept at handling opposition spinners.
While the Chennai spin trilogy of Harbhajan, Jadeja and Tahir have been more than a handful on this pitch, man of the match from last night Deepak Chahar has also been exceptional. While speaking in his post-match interview last night, he stressed the importance of preparations for such conditions. He practiced bowling the right length for the pitch in the lead up to the IPL, and also polished his slower bowl skills. Chahar’s miserly opening spells ensure that the batsmen are stifled from both ends when starting against Chennai.
In fact, the preparations for this pitch had started right from last year's auctions itself. In a recent documentary series about CSK’s return to IPL, you hear Dhoni speaking to team management and telling them to bid for Faf du Plessis over Brendon McCullum as the former can bat better on slow pitches shows how carefully crafted their winning strategy is. Du Plessis showed his worth Tuesday night with a calm and matured approach under pressure, scoring 43 unbeaten runs from 45 balls to guide CSK past the finish line.
Seven wins at home almost sets you up for a place in the playoffs irrespective of how you perform on the road. The fact that after picking a team to suit particular conditions, then not getting to play on it all season, and still managing to lift the trophy at the end of the season is a tribute to the CSK’s versatility.
While Chennai’s batsmen have found run scoring hard on their home pitch, they have gone out with better methods and exhibited better techniques to adjust their game for it. In fact, it’s their superior batting in these tricky conditions that gives them a decisive advantage over visitors.
The cornerstone of Chennai’s batting method at home is allowing their batsmen to play out the full quota of overs. In four matches at home so far, CSK have lost only 14 wickets while picking 32 opposition wickets. Clearly, the home batsmen have put a higher price tag on their wickets compared to the visitors who have often started recklessly.
CSK batsmen have also batted better in partnerships. Last night against KKR, Shane Watson started off with more aggressive intent and Faf du Plessis was happy to anchor the innings. When Watson got out, Raina and Rayudu played with more aggressive intent. In tough conditions, a clear plan gives you an edge. Having loyal players who put team cause ahead of their personal goals and follow the set plan to the word is a gamechanger.
It also helps that none of the Top 6 batsmen for CSK have a weakness against spin. In fact, some of them are among the best players of spin in this league and have a good technique to defend or attack the spinners.
With five wins in six games, Chennai are sitting comfortably at the top of the points table. With three more wins, they will be certain of a place in the playoff. They need to go on the road now for the next few games. Knowing that they always have the cushion of coming back to their fortress and securing those three wins at home will give them the confidence to play fearlessly.