Chennai Super Kings didn’t make the play-offs, and Royal Challengers Bangalore did. Chennai Super Kings won their last three games, and Royal Challengers Bangalore lost their last five.
Yeah, 2020 was weird.
For CSK, the late-season surge prevented the ignominy of a bottom-placed finish for a team that had never previously failed to finish in the top-four. RCB’s woeful end to the season denied a team that had looked the part in the first half of the campaign its long-awaited shot at possible glory.
Neither side can look too fondly upon IPL 2020 – and both need galvanising at the IPL 2021 Auction, on 18 February.
Chennai Super Kings
How will they cope?
It was a question most had on their minds ahead of IPL 2018, when the Super Kings returned to the fold from their two-year ban with an assembly soon-to-be titled the ‘Dad’s Army’.
That ‘Dad’s Army’ came within one run of winning back-to-back crowns – before the bubble burst in the UAE bubble of IPL 2020.
Famed for their selectorial consistency and faith in personnel, CSK were caught horribly on the wrong side of a time-warp. By the time they made right the wrongs, the season had passed them by.
An acceptance of the same is evident in the shake-ups made in the lead-up to this auction.
Players Retained: MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis, Sam Curran, Dwayne Bravo, Josh Hazlewood, Lungi Ngidi, Ambati Rayudu, Karn Sharma, Mitchell Santner, Shardul Thakur, Ruturaj Gaikwad, N Jagadeesan, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, KM Asif, R Sai Kishore
Players Released: Piyush Chawla, Kedar Jadhav, Murali Vijay, Harbhajan Singh, Monu Kumar, Shane Watson (retired)
Transfers: IN – Robin Uthappa from Rajasthan Royals (all-cash deal, INR 3 crore); OUT – None
How They Shape Up: INR 19.9 crore available, maximum seven spots to fill (one overseas)
If aging legs and fading fortunes were CSK’s biggest plight, there has been an immediate addressal. Leave aside Monu Kumar, and the average age of the five members who are no longer part of the squad – Chawla, Jadhav, Harbhajan, Vijay and Watson – is 36.
While Harbhajan had pulled out of the tournament at the eleventh hour, the remaining four had utterly forgettable campaigns in the UAE. At a combined price above INR 20 crore, that weight was well worth cutting.
Another 30-something’s future was the subject of great doubt as well. Suresh Raina, like Harbhajan, was a last-minute withdrawal from IPL 2020, after having endured a tough IPL 2019 (strike rate 122, average 24). For now, though, the Super Kings have kept the faith in ‘Chinna Thala’. “He is one of our best batsmen in the last ten years. He had to miss out last year, but he is back now and we are happy with him,” said a franchise official about the decision.
Holes to Plug
Absence of off-spin options
While Harbhajan was unlikely to be a regular (zero professional outings post IPL 2019), his decision to opt out of the tournament left CSK without a single off-spinner in their squad.
In the age of match-ups, that was always likely to prove telling; Mumbai Indians’ shrewd usage of Jayant Yadav to quell left-hander-heavy Delhi Capitals provides the perfect exhibit.
With Raina having bowled one over in the last three seasons, that empty off-spin cabinet needs immediate filling – if not a full-fledged offie, the Super Kings need an off-spin bowling all-rounder, at the least.
Influx of aggressive batsmen
Five opening batsmen used by CSK through IPL 2020 had a combined Powerplay scoring rate of 6.74 runs per over, and more than half the Powerplay deliveries they faced were dots.
In the middle overs, CSK’s talismanic captain had season returns of 62 runs from 70 balls.
At the death, Jadhav faced 21 balls over three outings – for a grand total of 12 runs.
With the exception of Curran and Jadeja, CSK don’t seem to possess any batsmen with a present ability to dramatically alter the look of a T20 contest. And they cannot afford another ‘net-run-rate first’ season.
If the buy(s) to fit this bill could double up as finishers, it might even free up Dhoni to bat with the abandon of 2018 and 2019 in what, surely, is set to be his final IPL bow.
Buys to Target: Glenn Maxwell, Moeen Ali, Jalaj Saxena, Jason Roy, Sam Billings
Royal Challengers Bangalore
In 2020, for once, Royal Challengers Bangalore appeared to enter an IPL campaign with bases well covered. Having retained most of their Indian base – the majority of whom were either in the national setup, or knocking on the doors – RCB shelled out INR 21.5 crore in the previous auction, in December 2019, and added an enviable assortment to their roster.
Nearly half of that kitty went towards the purchase of Chris Morris, and more than four crore rupees were spent in getting Aaron Finch – both high-profile entities for the format. An additional two crore sum was also spent in reacquiring Dale Steyn.
The way they began in the UAE, it all seemed to be coming together. With seven wins after 10 league stage games, RCB were primed for a top-two finish. Eventually, they came within 0.04 net run rate points of elimination – which is what they met one game later.
For a variety of reasons – some out of their control, others not as much – RCB’s season fizzled right when it needed to sizzle.
10 of the 22 members from the 2020 squad are no longer part of the setup. It’s a familiar feature with RCB going into an auction.
Players Retained: Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Yuzvendra Chahal, Devdutt Padikkal, Washington Sundar, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, Adam Zampa, Shahbaz Ahmed, Josh Philippe, Kane Richardson, Pavan Deshpande
Players Released: Moeen Ali, Chris Morris, Aaron Finch, Isuru Udana, Dale Steyn (unavailable), Shivam Dube, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Pawan Negi, Umesh Yadav, Parthiv Patel (retired)
Transfers: IN – Daniel Sams from Delhi Capitals (all-cash deal, INR 20 lakh), Harshal Patel from Delhi Capitals (all-cash deal, INR 20 lakh); OUT – None
How They Shape Up: INR 35.9 crore available, maximum 11 spots to fill (three overseas)
Morris had an economy rate of 6.63 and a strike rate of 161.90, right in the dream realm that RCB might have imagined when doling out the ten-crore fee to get him. Unfortunately, he was only available for nine of their 15 games – and hasn’t played professional cricket since.
“With a ten crore purse, he’s a big part of our resource, and did really well when he got on the park. He had some injuries, missed quite a bit of cricket, and hasn’t played cricket since then. So there’s a bit of a risk there,” explained Mike Hesson, RCB’s Director of Cricket, about the decision to release Morris.
Bold Diaries: Mike Hesson explains RCB’s Retention Strategy
— Royal Challengers Bangalore (@RCBTweets) January 20, 2021
His senior South African pro had an even tougher time; 11.4-0-133-1 were Steyn’s returns from the three games he got, and it’s hard to see the all-timer return to the IPL fold again.
Arguably most frustrating to the Royal Challengers’ cause was the disappearance of Finch. From December’s auction upto the start of the season, Finch had scored 599 runs at a strike rate touching 140, with nine scores above 35 in 15 innings. 12 games for RCB – his eighth IPL franchise – yielded only 268 runs, at a hard-to-explain strike rate of 111.20, and the Australian T20I captain only crossed 30 thrice (and 50 once).
Moeen Ali and Isuru Udana were the other overseas professionals to be deemed surplus to requirements by the three-time finalists, while Shivam Dube and Umesh Yadav were the highest-profile domestic players released.
Holes to Plug
RCB’s strangest failing in IPL 2020, ironically, lay in their usual strongest suit. Opposition teams threw their leg-spinners (and/or left-arm spinners) in the direction of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, and the 21st century’s dream batting partnership was blunted.
Bangalore’s scoring rate in the middle overs (7-15) was 6.93 – half a run less per over than even the struggling-for-intent CSK. Kohli and de Villiers, combined, scored at 6.71 per over in this phase.
Does RCB’s best batting combination require Kohli at the top of the order (all five of Kohli’s IPL centuries have come as opener)? Are Kohli and de Villiers, in their present avatars, best utilised with a more gung-ho batsman sandwiched between them to go after the spinners?
There isn’t a dearth of overseas options that could check this box in the auction pool, and more favourably for RCB, they do have three overseas picks remaining. They ought to cash in.
Finisher and/or quality all-rounder
The release of Morris and Moeen leaves RCB light on all-round options. Washington Sundar, on the back of his successful entry into Test cricket, will be a heftier presence than he has been; his equipped handling of spin, in fact, might provide a solution to spin quandary as well.
Regardless, the Royal Challengers will require additional all-round options, most preferably in the ideal-case Morris domain: big-hitter in the lower-middle order, reliable pace-bowling option.
Death overs pace
If the all-rounder above can be a handy death bowler – again, think prime Morris – it would tackle multiple gaps at once.
Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini and Kane Richardson are the only pace bowlers of repute left in the RCB camp. Of them, Siraj is not the best suited to bowling at the back-end of the innings, and Richardson’s own spate of injuries and withdrawals makes him a risky proposition.
This best explains the decision to part ways with Umesh Yadav, who, a bit like Siraj, is better off bowling in the first half of a T20 innings.
Even if Richardson is available for the majority of the season, RCB look at least one option shy in the death bowling department.
Buys to Target: Chris Morris, Tom Curran, Dawid Malan, Fabian Allen, Jhye Richardson
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Having last featured in the IPL in 2014, Pujara has been part of 30 IPL matches, scoring 390 runs at an average of 20.53 with a strike rate of 99.74.