MUMBAI: It is becoming increasingly painful to see Chennai Super Kings lose game after game in this IPL 2020. Not many would want to look back at 2020 with pleasant memories.
The spread of the deadly Coronavirus, throwing normal life out of gear and leaving people with uncertainties, job losses, pay cuts, price rises have severely affected the common man. As if these were not enough came CSK’s dismal show in the IPL just when their diehard fans looked for something to cheer about in this pandemic.
At the start, it seemed that CSK was unaffected by the withdrawal of Suresh Raina and absence due to injury of Dwayne Bravo. But from the high of a 10-wicket win over Kings XI Punjab to a new low of 10-wicket loss to Mumbai Indians on Friday night, CSK has been going through a miserable run.
Dhoni may have sported a smile during Friday’s match against holders Mumbai Indians when his team was four wickets for three runs, which became five for 21 before Power Play ended and then six for 30 when the 2011 World Cup winning-captain departed. Dhoni may have sported a smile at the post-match press conference. But, deep inside, he must be hurting with the way he has not been able to do a turnaround for the team that has only seen the highs in the previous editions.
CSK have lost eight of their 11 matches, the last three on the trot. They have won only one of their last six matches after winning two of their first five. Dhoni is not new to seeing his team at the bottom of the table. He led Rising Pune Supergiant in the first of its two seasons when CSK were suspended for match-fixing. RPS finished second last in the table in 2016.
Yes, Dhoni deserved the accolades when his team was winning. So, it is only fair that he takes the blame when his team is not doing well. In hindsight, what more could Dhoni have done, or how better could he have marshalled his resources? Dhoni tried whatever he had, more so after the withdrawal of Raina and Harbhajan Singh before the start of the IPL and the unavailability of all-rounder Bravo for a majority of this tournament due to injury.
Nobody, leave alone Dhoni and the CSK think-tank, would have imagined that IPL would be held in UAE when they sat down for the auctions to pick the team. So, not many changes were made to the CSK set up. They went with more or less the same squad that has done well on their home ground, MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai, where the spinners have come to the fore and won matches more often than not.
They went in with leg-spinners who would have come in handy on the slow Chennai pitch. But the same did not work for Dhoni in the UAE, what with Karn Sharma, Piyush Chawla not making that much of a mark and South African Imran Tahir getting his first match in the team’s 11th outing.
CSK’s bowling arsenal is not as intimidating as some of the others in the competition. They don’t have express pace bowlers who can rattle the top-order of the opposition. At best, their bowlers who can move the ball a bit and vary with slower ones. Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur have given breakthroughs and left-armer Sam Curran has chipped in with his variety but none have been fiery enough to stop the opposition from posting lofty totals.
Adding to this, CSK do not have power hitters to make a difference like some other teams, say Marcus Stoinis of Delhi Capitals or AB de Villiers of Royal Challengers Bangalore. While CSK has been completely dependent on Dhoni to come good in the end overs, this has backfired as the Jharkhand cricketer has not been at his best this IPL. The pressure, along with age, has caught up with Dhoni that it became too much of an asking for him to replicate his calculative hitting and seeing his team through like he successfully did in the past.
Dhoni not scoring enough has pulled CSK back so badly. When Dhoni gets going, the team is winning. But when he doesn’t, the team is exposed. It seemed like the team was on auto-pilot when flying high in Indian conditions, but in the UAE, when the team ran into rough weather, the captain’s role became crucial.
In his desperation to get the team off to a blazing start, something that his team was also crippled with, Dhoni tried sending Curran to open with in-form Faf du Plessis, thus breaking the du Plessis-Shane Watson rhythm.
Too much emphasis, now-a-days, is being given to the left-right combination in the batting order. While it may have logic, it always does not work. If that were to be the case, the selectors will have to go with an equal number of left-handed batsmen and right-handed batsmen, sometimes compromising on quality. The principle of selecting your best squad and the best 11 for the day will work better than trying out all the experiments and feeling sorry when they don’t work.
Dhoni’s strategy of building the total gradually and leaving it till the last might have worked in the past. It has not worked this time, especially when there has not been enough support from the others and that he has not been in great form. He has only consumed more deliveries initially and though he makes up later to have a strike rate of more than a run a ball, the game has more or less slipped out of CSK’s hands.
Dhoni’s CSK may be heading to a last-place finish, with three matches remaining. His stature as an all-time great, not just in Indian cricket but also in world cricket, though, does not change.
Perhaps, a relook into CSK’s personnel, both playing and coaching, for the next IPL would reverse the results and put CSK back on the winning track. And, as far Dhoni is concerned, it is everyone’s guess. Isn’t he known to throw one surprise after another?
One positive that CSK can take from here to the next IPL is to just look back on 2017 IPL, when RPS, from a second-last finish the previous year, entered the final, only to lose to Mumbai Indians in 2017.