Chennai Super Kings do have an excellent chance of going the full distance in this Champions League T20. There are many reasons as to why I would put my money on them, such as:
- Malinga’s absence in the Mumbai Indians squad and the state of disarray that they can get into while trying to replace him.
- Sunrisers Hyderabad will be battling against the odds in trying to overcome the stumbling blocks on surfaces alien to those that brought them so much success in their debut season.
- The Australian teams do not look threatening enough, unlike say, New South Wales. The weird rules that make sure Trinidad and Tobago always get robbed off their best players.
- Otago Volts are a pretty good outfit and have a great opportunity to end up as one of the semifinalists. But then, they will eventually run out of gas as I don’t see their bowlers, apart from Neil Wagner and Ian Butler, holding up.
It is not like they do not have any competitors though. Both the South African teams do have the ability to give CSK a run for their money, especially the Highveld Lions.
In Rajasthan Royals, boosted by the presence of Shane Watson, Brad Hodge’s deadly finishing skills and James Faulkner’s potency when it comes to bowling upfront and at the death, they have a potential threat to the crown.
More than all these, the fact that the Royals are captained by Rahul Dravid and coached by Paddy Upton, a duo that is bringing back the lost glories of what top notch strategical moves and captaincy can add to this beautiful game that is increasingly becoming monotonous with utterly disgraceful defensive tactics, is what makes them a real force.
But if CSK close down a couple of loopholes in their game-play, even Rajasthan Royals would find it difficult to break them down.
Here is what I think they would need to do to shut down any opportunities for the other teams in the tournament.
MS Dhoni and his duel with number 4:
Four – The number that has everything to do with what transpires for the Chennai Super Kings in this edition of CLT20. To be more precise about what I mean – the number four spot in the batting order. Much hinges on how Mahendra Singh Dhoni goes about it.
CSK lost a total of 6 matches, including the finals against Mumbai Indians, in the 2013 Indian Premier League. In five of the six matches, Dhoni did not come in at number 4. Out of the 12 victories they notched up, two were by a nine-wicket (batting first) margin one a ten-wicket victory, which meant the number four batsman did not come into the scene.
Of the remaining ten wins, seven times Dhoni had come in at a position where he should always be coming at game in game out – number four. While in the three other games, CSK needed a 20-ball 38 against RCB and 14-ball 36 against KKR from Ravindra Jadeja to see them home in two of those matches.
If you are of the belief that knocks such as that can be expected to bail out your team, you can stop reading this now. But I would always like more certainty.
So, only one time in 18 games did CSK manage to escape unscathed with Dhoni coming in at no. 5 or below. Still the captain loves coming down the order.
Let us analyse his exploits in T20 internationals for India.
It would be an understatement to say that Dhoni has not done justice to his talents in international T20s. To put it bluntly, he has been a flop in this version of the game for India. In 39 innings, he has scored 748 runs at an average of 31.14, heavily boosted by 15 not outs, and a below-par strike rate of 114.90.
It is difficult to fathom that a batsman of Dhoni’s stature does not have a fifty in international T20s. It all comes down to the fact that in 30 of those 39 innings, he has batted at number 5 or below.
This has led to a myth that he cannot perform in international T20s. If he promotes himself up the order, it could be a different story altogether. He has reduced the effect that he can have by coming way too down the order.
While that discussion can wait for another day, it was particularly stressed upon to show that Dhoni could be a vital cog to a T20 team at number 4. If I were an opposition captain, I would gladly take every ball that is not faced by Dhoni after the 12th over of the innings.
The basic idea behind it is that Dhoni should be at the crease at any cost after the 12th over. Big hitters need a good look-in to launch their innings. It is unfair to expect them to go berserk in the last 3 overs otherwise.
I do understand his fears of leaving the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja and Chris Morris lower down to do the finishing in case the top order fails.
That is where the next issues surfaces. I believe even that loophole can be filled. All that is required is to remove Murali Vijay from the playing eleven.
Drop Murali Vijay:
Statistically speaking, Vijay’s record of 312 runs in 15 innings at an average of 22.28 and strike-rate of 109.09 in IPL 6 doesn’t deserve him an automatic qualification.
Not to forget he was dropped by CSK the season before for a series of woeful performances and returned late into the tourney to score his only 50+ score in IPL 5 against Delhi Daredevils.
Some muddled thinking from Delhi think-tank led to Morne Morkel being dropped for Andre Russell and in turn, forcing the Daredevils to include Sunny Gupta, who looked overqualified for being a net bowler, leave alone a part of Delhi Daredevils. The off-spinner ended up conceding 47 runs off his three overs and Vijay made complete use of the hapless bowling attack to score a 58-ball 113.
Going beyond the mere statistics, from my observation in the last couple of years, I believe his problems start when he is trying to accelerate, an issue that has crept into his playing style off late.
He looks stylish, compact and comfortable when he is not trying to force through the pace, strictly applies himself only when the bowling is harmless, which is pretty much the case in IPL, but the moment he is required to step up the gear, his shortcomings show up.
That is why I believe he should be replaced with Faf du Plessis. Since he cannot be substituted like-for-like with Vijay, an overseas player has to be sacrificed.
Faf du Plessis comes at a cost:
Including Du Plessis raises the next question. Whom should he replace?
Dwayne Bravo, considering CSK’s glaring weakness in death bowling, and Michael Hussey, no questions whatsoever, deserve a spot.
Chris Morris, the latest addition to what is becoming the hub of talented all-rounders, gets a place as a result of the extra pace that could be handy in the kind of surfaces that CLT20 is about to be played at. He also showed glimpses of his death bowling skills in the IPL 6 that could be vital to CSK’s diminished options at death.
After his performances in the last IPL, I am not even entering into a discussion as to why Jason Holder doesn’t deserve to be in the playing eleven, as of now.
Albie Morkel is the only one left. I would love to have him any day in my limited overs team, but is he of any use to CSK’s way of playing?
The Albie Morkel conundrum:
In the last four years, CSK have made a complete meal of the one I consider as an asset. Morkel has faced 37, 68, 102 and 131 balls in the last four seasons respectively (in a reverse order from 2013).
However, he has scored 489 runs from those 338 deliveries in four seasons combined. To show how bad a mismanagement it is, consider this – Murali Vijay faced 339 balls in a single season (2011 IPL).
The fact that Vijay scored 434 runs which is 55 less than Morkel despite facing more deliveries, in a season widely considered to be his best, is noteworthy here.
You can also notice a steady decline in the number of deliveries Morkel has faced in the last four years, which is quite obviously due to the arrival of Bravo and Jadeja.
Even though he is the leading wicket-taker for CSK in IPL with 76 wickets, it is not rocket science to understand that wickets do come along when you bowl regularly for five seasons. And to put things into perspective, Piyush Chawla has 84 wickets.
So if that is how you are going to use an overseas player, why have him at all?
Replace him with Du Plessis and slot him in as an opener, a role which he relished in his debut season with the Super Kings (398 in 12 innings at a strike rate of 130.92).
Imagine a top four that has Du Plessis, Hussey, Raina and MSD. For a non-international bowling line up to get through them in batting friendly conditions is a pretty tough task.
If they do get through in odd circumstances, they will still have to bowl at the likes of Badrinath, Jadeja, Bravo and Morris, who can easily thwart them off from achieving anything of value.
Why should Vijay get the drop, and not Badrinath?
It is true that Subramaniam Badrinath has become non-existent in the CSK playing eleven off late, but you can always afford to have someone who takes to tough playing conditions in IPL, as fish takes to water.
Whereas Vijay’s problems are adding up, to even think that he is our first choice opener against South Africa in South Africa, shows the dearth of quality we have for openers!
And no, his century against an impotent Australian attack is not the answer. All that for another day though.
Personally I have no qualms over Albie Morkel’s selection, but as I have made it clear before, he would do no good for CSK’s way of playing.
The Indian player who could replace Vijay would be Wriddhiman Saha, in the absence of Shadab Jakati who is not in the 15-man squad. It’s not like these are my first choice options, but having not seen Imtiaz Ahmed bowling, these are the available options.
If Morkel plays, the playing eleven should should be – Hussey, Badrinath, Raina, Dhoni, Saha (as a floater), Morkel, Bravo, Jadeja, Morris, Ashwin, Mohit.
Badrinath would be helped by the fact that the fielders would be in during the powerplay and his scoring shots, i.e. cuts, drives and pull shots can fetch more runs than just singles outside of the powerplay. Run rate would not be an issue with big hitters lined up in the order after him.
If Morkel is dropped, the line-up would be - Hussey, Du Plessis, Raina, MSD, Badrinath and Saha (as floaters), Bravo, Jadeja, Morris, Ashwin, Mohit.
Death bowling would still be an issue. But they do not have the options to bolster the attack and if at all anyone can manage this bowling unit, it has to be Dhoni, having captained the Indian team for so long now.
Irrespective of what they do with Murali Vijay, expect them to go all the way, if Dhoni comes in at number four and Morkel is not held back.