By Karthik Parimal
This fifth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has not been an eventful one for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) thus far. The defending champions have looked completely out of sorts despite having some big names in their line-up. This was least expected, considering they were the most balanced side and favourites to win for the third time before the commencement of the tournament. During the previous editions, CSK were fortunate to have at least one player who would steer the team out of troubled waters. Unfortunately, seldom have they found anyone delivering during crunch situations in this season.
CSK’s first big disappointment this year came in the form of Murali Vijay. He was the protagonist during Chennai’s triumphant IPL 3 journey. He scored 458 runs that season at an average of 35.23 and a strike-rate of almost 157. When an opener is that efficient, the batsmen following him wouldn’t need to toil much to post huge totals consistently. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that CSK managed to win more often than not during the previous seasons. Sadly, Vijay has no place in the side this year owing to a string of poor performances. Albeit having an equally efficient opener like Francois du Plessis this time, CSK haven’t yet zeroed in on a regular opening combination, and that is hurting them.
A player of Subramaniam Badrinath’s calibre has no fixed spot in this current CSK line-up. He played at No 5 in the first match against the Mumbai Indians, didn’t come in to bat even at No 7 during a high-scoring match against the Royal Challengers of Bangalore (RCB), opened for a few matches thereafter, and then wasn’t used despite the fall of five wickets in the last game against the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). This shows that most of the CSK batsmen are being used as floaters. Although this could augur well in some cases, it is crucial for a team to have its players get used to a particular spot - like Suresh Raina gets to play at No.3 irrespective of the situation - so that it’s easier for them to understand their role in the side.
The inclusion of Michael Hussey will no doubt strengthen CSK’s batting. As mentioned, du Plessis has been amongst the runs this season, and a stable player like Hussey will be an apt opening partner. But it’s important that CSK persist with these two at the top. Rajasthan Royals (RR) are not as strong as CSK when you compare the two teams, but RR has persisted with its batting order. Every player knows when he’s due to walk in, and hence their roles are that much clearer. RR may currently be ranked below CSK in the standings, but one has to keep in mind that they lost a few close games. With their present strategy, and the return of Shane Watson, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if RR climbs the table swiftly during the final legs of the IPL.
In one of my previous articles, I had mentioned that Dhoni needs to bat at No.4 in order to inject stability into CSK. Why that position was up for grabs in the last two games is difficult to comprehend. In the match against Kings XI Punjab, Wriddhiman Saha came in to bat at No 4 and slowed down the scoring rate considerably before being dismissed for just six. Dhoni batted well in that position a few games prior to this one, and hence the move of promoting Saha made little sense, considering the fact that the latter was yet to face a ball in this year’s IPL. In CSK’s previous game against KKR, Bravo was asked to bat at No 4, and he too fell cheaply. This reshuffling of the batting order enabled CSK to post just 139 on the board.
CSK has a relatively strong and long batting lineup. But the players must be given a defined set of roles and responsibilities. Their bowling too hasn’t been up to the mark. The batting department has players like Hussey, du Plessis, Raina, Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja who are more than capable of posting and chasing down mammoth totals if used appropriately. The inclusion of Ben Hilfenhaus in place of either Dwayne Bravo or Albie Morkel may prove to be an effective move considering his credentials with the ball. Moreover, he was Australia’s leading wicket-taker behind spinner Nathan Lyon during the recently concluded Test series against the West Indies. His good form could be a shot in the arm of CSK’s bowling unit.
It is an uphill task for CSK to defend their crown this time around. Nevertheless, they have the ammunition to do it. However, it is important that they do away with the excessive shuffling and let players get accustomed to their roles.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)