The last time Chennai Super Kings failed to win two consecutive run-chases in the IPL, Sachin Tendulkar was still an active Indian cricketer, India were yet to have won the Champions Trophy and no team barring CSK had won multiple IPL titles. The year was 2013.
There are several issues plaguing the Super Kings that led to this unwanted statistic, and while there will be an attempt to enlist most of them, no factor has been as telling – and frustrating – than their approach while attempting these two chases.
They were two entirely different games, at two significantly different venues – a target of 217 on a belter aided by small straight boundaries in Sharjah and a target of 176 at the much bigger ground in Dubai. The common denominator, or the largest, in their losses to Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Capitals was the batting, by way of both tactics and temperament.
In a near-11-per-over chase on Tuesday, half of Chennai’s innings comprised of overs where they scored seven or fewer runs. With an asking rate touching nine an over on Friday, they limped to 47/3 in their first 10 overs – a period that saw just four boundaries, and a staggering 31 dot balls.
Yes, they’re without Suresh Raina. Yes, they’ve also been without Ambati Rayudu for both of these losses. But you’d still imagine the guys being put out on the park do have a plan?
Murali Vijay has mustered 32 runs from 43 balls in the tournament so far. If you think that’s bad, sample this: he’s been beaten by 13 of those 43 balls.
Shane Watson has started a second successive IPL season looking rusty. In 2019, he scored 147 runs in the first 10 games before starting to repay the faith. The CSK of 2020 probably can’t afford to wait 10 games for a player to come good. It also doesn’t help that between IPL 2019 and 2020, Watson only played 16 innings (across the Bangladesh Premier League and the Pakistan Super League) – and made less than 30 in 13 of them.
Ruturaj Gaikwad has made his impression in domestic cricket as a top-order batsman. In 28 T20 innings before making his IPL debut against the Royals, he had opened 27 times (and batted at three in the other). In two outings in the IPL, he’s been sent at four and five.
Kedar Jadhav had a strike rate of 95.85 for the Super Kings last year. On paper, he’s improved to 129.72 in two innings this season – except he’d come out with the required rate at 12.72 and 12.19, respectively.
And then, there’s MS Dhoni. Slow and steady until MS gets ready was a solid strategy, back in the day. It was the epitome of the CSK heyday. But at this point in time, they are staring more at Mayday than they ever have as a franchise. And the idea of leaving 17-18 runs per over would’ve been a stretch even in that heyday, leave alone now, when he’s been out of the game for more than a year.
Sam Curran had been the one bright spark, the injection of energy in both their games before this – with the benefit of having viewed the chases that followed, imagine the opener against Mumbai Indians without his 18 off six balls – and he only came out against the Capitals with 46 needed from three deliveries. That CSK chose not to promote him in front of an attack comprising a slow left-armer and a leg-spinner only adds to the bafflement.
Given the events of the past two editions of this competition, the usage of any extreme labels is fraught with danger; two years ago, everyone who mocked the ‘Dad’s Army’ (and there were many) was made to eat humble pie, and a repeat was only avoided by the barest of margins.
But to have produced the two run-chases that they have, in succession and in the space of four days, suggests that CSK are being archaic in their approach to the game. And that’s without considering the troubles they’re facing on the bowling front – which should merit a different story in itself.
Not for a moment shall we ignore that this is the team that entered this season bearing a bigger weight than anyone else – Raina and Harbhajan Singh’s pull-outs, and the coronavirus crisis within the camp, all before a ball was bowled, even as the veterans of the ‘Dad’s Army’ veered closer than ever to the 40-mark.
But even still, one expects more from the stables of the IPL’s most consistent beast.
What could they do? For starters, the best thing that can happen to CSK is happening: they get six days off before their next game, against Sunrisers Hyderabad – a chance to recharge the batteries, a chance to rework the strategies, a chance to hit the refresh button early in the season.
Here’s what they could consider. A five-point strategy, if this author may.
Go back to what resurfaces on the internet every year during the last week of league stage action: The IPL is a tournament where seven teams compete to find out who joins Chennai Super Kings in the playoffs.
A statement like that, even if only for the purpose of memes, doesn’t come without the stamp of greatness. And so, you never write off Chennai Super Kings. But it’s 2020, and like the world, they need to get their act together.
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The most prominent change in Tuesday's 20-run win over Sunrisers Hyderabad was Sam Curran's elevation to the opener's slot and Fleming said the move provided momentum to the CSK innings. Curran scored 31 off 21 balls in the 20-run triumph, only their third in eight matches this season.
Umpire Reiffel, who played 35 Tests for Australia before retiring, appeared to start the signal for a wide - both arms outstretched at shoulder height - when Dhoni began protesting.
MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings suffered their biggest IPL defeat against Mumbai Indians - losing by 10 wickets with 46 balls to spare.