Chennai Super Kings’ against-the-odds win against Royal Challengers Bangalore was set up by Sam Curran (3-0-19-3, including Aaron Finch, Virat Kohli, and Moeen Ali) and Ruturaj Gaikwad (65 not out in 51 balls). Not a part of Chennai’s strategies in the early part of the tournament, Gaikwad ensured he stayed there till the end for an unbeaten 65 in 51 balls to get Chennai to their fourth win.
One may argue that he never went after the bowling, but in reality, he never needed to accelerate – and his nimble footwork ensured Bangalore could never push him into a corner. At the other end, Faf du Plessis (25 in 13) and Ambati Rayudu (39 in 27) ensured the score kept ticking. It might not have been the greatest T20 approach, but Chennai needed that start.
This was the ninth time Chennai chased in the 2020 IPL, of which they have now won three – by 5, 10, and 8 wickets, with 4, 14, and 8 balls to spare. The first two chases were set up by one major stand in each case: 115 in 78 balls between du Plessis and Rayudu against Mumbai Indians, and an unbroken 181 in 106 balls between Shane Watson and du Plessis against Kings XI Punjab.
Here, they had two (involving Gaikwad, with du Plessis and Rayudu) that combined for 113 in 81. They needed these starts to make up for their middle order, none of whom has scored at a brisk pace. In fact, du Plessis (141) has been the only Chennai specialist batsman to have struck at above 130. The other two are Ravindra Jadeja (162) and Sam Curran (136).
What has gone wrong with Chennai? Neither MS Dhoni nor Kedar Jadhav has really got going; Watson and Rayudu have had their moments but have not delivered consistently; and M Vijay has looked a shadow of the man who has two IPL hundreds and scored five fifties four seasons ago.
What is common to these men – as well as some bowlers who have failed to make an impact?
Barring du Plessis (and Tahir, who has really bowled only seven overs so far), the difference is evident: Chennai’s stars have been from their younger brigade.
But the same senior brigade had almost won the trophy in 2019, and a year before that, actually won it. They were branded the Dad’s Army – which was true, given their median age – but they had delivered.
This time it was different. First, the pandemic has kept cricketers off competitive cricket for months. While this has been true for all teams, Chennai – a significant part of whose core consists of older cricketers – have suffered the most. Most of them looked jaded, out of practice, towards the start of the tournament. The testing conditions certainly did not help.
Additionally, the likes of Dhoni, Tahir, Rayudu, and Jadhav used to be part of, or at least around, their respective international sides in 2019. Bravo was attempting a comeback. None of them is an active international cricketer anymore. While the likes of Bravo and Tahir have played in the recently concluded CPL, most of them have not had serious match practice for a long time. To makes things worse, Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh – both giants of IPL – withdrew from the tournament, while Bravo had to pull out midway.
Could they have done things differently in the auction? They released Mohit Sharma, David Willey, Sam Billings, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Dhruv Shorey, and Scott Kuggeleijn – all of whom are 32 or younger. Had they known that that match practice would be scant in the coming months, they would probably have not done the same.
Unlike some others sides, unfortunately, they did not have enough top-quality young cricketers to replace the senior men who form the part of the nucleus once the tournament got underway. Curran did – he was a 2020 accusation – in multiple roles, as their leading wicket-taker and slogger who can be used anywhere in the batting order.
Neither were they prepared for not being able to play half their league matches on the slow, low pitches of their stronghold of Chepauk, a factor that was instrumental behind their success in 2019.
Should they look for a squad revamp? Perhaps, perhaps not. While there is little doubt that most of their superstars – all of whom are greats in this format – have struggled, it cannot be denied that they were playing out of their comfort zone.
It can be argued that great sides (and Chennai is one) should be able to perform irrespective of odds. There is truth in that. However, it must be remembered that these conditions (lack of practice, venue, weather) were not defined before the auction. Had they known beforehand Chennai would have approached the auction with younger cricketers in mind – who knows? The result might have been different, in which case they would almost certainly have had more big guns of thirty or younger.
Perhaps 2021 will be different.
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