If the world hadn't seen the COVID-19 pandemic and if the Indian Premier League (IPL) hadn't been postponed and then shifted to the UAE, three-time champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK) could've been easily the favourites for this year's tournament. Now, with the league taking place in the Emirates and key batsman Suresh Raina leaving the CSK squad due to personal reasons, plus two cricketers testing positive for the COVID-19, which delayed their training by a few days, can CSK be considered a strong contenders for the title?
Conventional wisdom states CSK might have it difficult this season, but they have experience in their ranks and the team is led by MS Dhoni, a proven, world-class captain. It gets only trickier to predict the fortunes of CSK in the upcoming tournament so better to avoid any kind of soothsaying when it comes to one of the most successful teams in the IPL.
— Chennai Super Kings (@ChennaiIPL) September 15, 2020
Just like the previous two years, CSK will once again depend heavily on their experienced international players to make an impact. Apart from Dhoni, the likes of Faf du Plessis, Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Imran Tahir need to play crucial roles if the team wants to go deep in the tournament. The team will surely miss Raina, whose batting prowess as well as his energy on the field have been immense in the previous years. It's not just his on-field activities, but Raina has been a positive influence in the dressing room, a perfect example for youngsters.
In the absence of Raina, Dhoni would want to bring the best out of 22-year-old Ruturaj Gaikwad while Ambati Rayudu and Kedar Jadhav need to step up big time in the batting department. There's not much clarity on the conditions of the pitches in UAE but considering the squad they have, CSK will depend heavily on their spinners to make the ball talk. Harbhajan Singh has also opted out of the tournament but that's not a big cause of concern for CSK. They have Piyush Chawla, Tahir, Mitchell Santner, Karn Sharma, and Jadeja who are more than capable to cause damage with their spin bowling.
Regarding pace bowling, the Indian duo of Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur will lead the attack, at least in the opening few matches. Among overseas players, Faf, Watson, and Bravo are favourites to the start in the playing XI. Sam Curran, Lungi Ngidi, and Josh Hazlewood provide a range of options to Dhoni and the team management will hope that the pitches will have something for the pacers.
Ideal playing XI: Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Faf du Plessis, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Piyush Chawla, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur.
Players to watch out for:
MS Dhoni: It's true that Dhoni hasn't played any cricket since the 2019 World Cup, but the captain takes his fitness very seriously. His age may read 39 at the moment, but Dhoni is still one of the fittest players in the CSK camp. There's hardly any chance that his six-hitting abilities would've waned in this period, so opposition teams should be wary. There's also the aspect of captaincy and the World Cup-winning skipper knows a things or two about inspiring his teammates to glory. He has already won the title thrice with CSK and over the last two years, with almost a similar team, he made CSK the champions and also took the side to the final. Ignore Dhoni at your own peril.
Ravindra Jadeja: What makes Jadeja an asset in any format of the game? He's a gun fielder. He can come up with valuable contributions with the bat. He can also chip in with wickets while also controlling the run flow. Jadeja is a delight for any captain and with years of playing together, Dhoni surely knows how to use him. This time, Jadeja needs to contribute more with the bat considering he might be moved up in the batting order. It will be interesting to see at what position he will come to bat and whether he will come to the middle before Dhoni himself. Likely scenario is that the batting order of Dhoni and Jadeja might change according to the match situations.
Imran Tahir: There are three wrist-spinners in the CSK squad but Tahir is the key. Last year, Tahir had a terrific tournament, picking up 26 wickets at an average of 16.58 from 17 appearances. As a result, he won the purple cap for being the highest wicket-taker in the tournament. The spinner needs to produce a similar kind of number once again this season to ensure CSK have the best chance of making it to the playoffs. There's no doubt about his wicket-taking exploits but it's a matter of doing it consistently and Dhoni would hope his ace spinner doesn't disappoint.
Where CSK can falter?
A look at the CSK squad and there are questions about their batting. Raina's departure has certainly added to the worries of the team management. Opener Watson can be prone to inconsistency, so a lot will depend on the likes of Faf, Rayudu, Jadhav and Jadeja. The onus will also be on Murali Vijay to make maximum use of the opportunities. In Ruturaj Gaikwad, CSK have found an exciting young prospect who could make a name for himself, especially now that Raina is out of the equation for this season. But he might miss the opening match against defending champions Mumbai Indians because he still remains in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 last month. Dhoni and the team management will hope that the batsman doesn't take many matches to find his form. If he can score consistently, CSK will certainly find it easy.
Full squad: Squad: MS Dhoni (captain), Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Murali Vijay, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Deepak Chahar, Piyush Chawla, N Jagadeesan, Mitchell Santner, KM Asif, Shardul Thakur, R Sai Kishore, Faf du Plessis, Monu Kumar, Dwayne Bravo, Josh Hazlewood, Sam Curran, Karn Sharma
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