By Nishad Pai Vaidya
If there is any team in the Indian Premier League (IPL) that lives up to its name, it is without doubt the Chennai Super Kings (CSK). The reigning champions have been a dominant force since the first season and are easily the most consistent side in the competition. With two IPL titles and one Champions League T20 (CLT20), Chennai arguably have the most enviable trophy cabinet amongst the franchises. The IPL season five gives them the opportunity to complete a hat-trick of triumphs - an achievement that would help them carve a special place in the history of the IPL.
Chennai’s biggest strength is its balance. They have the perfect combination of batsmen, bowlers and all-rounders spread over both the foreign and Indian pool. A lot of it has to with them successfully retaining most of their players during the auction before the fourth season. The core of the squad that clinched the IPL 2010 and the CLT20 2010 form their backbone even today. Going into the latest auction, Chennai looked the strongest and didn’t require any wholesale additions. However, by picking Ravindra Jadeja they have strengthened their squad and it allows them more combinations.
It would be interesting to see where Chennai fit Jadeja into the playing eleven. They have fielded the same eleven in five out of their six games, which includes four games in the CLT20 2011 and the 1st qualifier and the final of IPL 4. The only change they made was during their last game in the CLT20 when Nuwan Kulasekara replaced Albie Morkel. The ten players who have featured in all the previous six games are: Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Michael Hussey, Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo, Doug Bollinger, Shadab Jakati, Ravichandran Ashwin, Subramaniam Badrinath and Wriddhiman Saha.
If Jadeja is to make it into the eleven, Saha may have to make way. Such a move would provide the right balance as Jadeja would bat in the middle and bowl a complete quota of four overs. The other possible option would be to play him instead of Jakati. However, this would only weaken their bowling as Bollinger and Ashwin would be left with a lot to do. Morkel and Bravo are wicket-takers, but can be on the expensive side.
Without any doubts, Ashwin would be the key as Dhoni trusts him with the new ball. His carom balls and faster ones seem more vicious with the harder ball and he creates pressure despite the fielding restrictions. This option gives Dhoni a bit of flexibility up-front as he can save one of the faster bowlers for later.
The Chennai batting looks imposing with Hussey, Vijay, Raina, Dhoni, Morkel and Bravo in the ranks. They would have to contend with the absence of Hussey till the end of April as he would be involved in the Australia-West Indies Test series in the Caribbean. Bravo too may not be available - that is if he is picked for the Tests, a format he hasn’t played since 2010. In case the duo isn’t around, Chennai have enough back-up in Faf Du Plessis, Scott Styris and George Bailey.
The MA Chidambaram Stadium was an impenetrable fort as Chennai maintained an unbeaten record there during the last season. However, that strong citadel was breached during the CLT20 as Mumbai Indians, Trinidad and Tobago and New South Wales managed to beat Chennai. The slow surface cause quite a few problems and batsmen struggled to score big. For the home games, the team management would be rooting for more sporting wickets as Chennai need their batsmen to put the runs on the board.
The calming influence of Dhoni is what guides this force. In T20 cricket, players face nerve-wracking moments frequently and the presence of a cool head at the helm is imperative for success. The fearlessness of Dhoni has transcended his mind and has blended into the team to make it a courageous unit. It is this mindset that keeps them prepared to take risks and remain calm under pressure.
Getting into the knock-outs shouldn’t be a problem for Chennai unless they play below potential. Once they get there, irrespective of the standings in the table, they would be the favourites. The other teams would be inspired by Mumbai’s performance in the CLT20 and plot to breach Chennai’s stronghold over the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)