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Vol. XXXII No. 5, June 16-30, 2022
At the recently concluded IPL, Chennai Super Kings started off on the wrong foot, never really recovered and finished second from the bottom in the points table. While their non-performance came as a major disappointment to their legion of fans worldwide, in a way it was not surprising even though they had commenced as the defending champions; though perhaps second from the bottom was a position even the most cynical observer would not have envisaged for the four-time IPL champions. If there is any consolation, it is that the Mumbai Indians, the five-time winner of the title, finished at the bottom. CSK just about avoided that ultimate humiliation, for while both finished with eight points, they were slightly ahead on net run rate.
CSK looked like an aged team, and as everyone is aware, T-20 is a format in which generally the younger players excel. This was confirmed by the fact that even MS Dhoni in his 41st year struggled to live up to his reputation as the finisher par excellence, being able to play that role only once to perfection during the competition. Most significantly, the team’s aged look was borne out in the fielding. Normally one of the sharpest fielding sides in the competition, CSK were sloppy this time around, dropping several straightforward catches.
There were other problems too. CSK never really got their combination right. Sometimes they fielded an extra batsman and at other times, an extra bowler when the situation didn’t warrant the move. Inevitably, things didn’t work out their way. And then neither the batsmen nor the bowlers covered themselves with glory. Most of the big names failed to come off, putting too much pressure on a few players. Sure there was the odd good performance but consistency was lacking and stars like Dwayne Bravo and Mitchell Santner were expected to contribute much more. It is to the credit of youngsters like Mukesh Choudhury, Shivam Dube and Ruturaj Gaikwad that they shone like beacons in the dark. Among the overseas signings, only Devon Conway and Moeen Ali pulled in their weight.
But CSK’s real problem was at the top. The captaincy muddle was clearly the main reason behind the sub-standard showing of the squad. The appointment of Ravindra Jadeja as captain on the eve of the tournament raised a lot of eyebrows given the fact that Dhoni had been the CSK captain since the inaugural edition of the IPL in 2008. Dhoni’s name is indissolubly linked with the franchisee and he is known in Chennai as `Thala.’ He is the unquestioned leader and for him not to be the captain was unthinkable. Certainly, the charismatic Dhoni has been the chief reason behind the CSK success story through the years. Even as the campaign got underway the vast majority of CSK supporters were far from convinced that Jadeja’s appointment was a wise one. And when CSK lost their first four matches, a host of questions were raised about his leadership qualities. Ravi Shastri for one did not mince words and made it clear that Jadeja was “not a natural captain” and looked like a “fish out of water” during his stint at the helm. “He hasn’t captained at any level so to give him the responsibility I thought was a little hard on Jadeja’,” the former Indian head coach said in a TV interview.
CSK won just two matches out of eight that Jadeja captained. Midway through the campaign, Dhoni suddenly took over even as Jadeja kept his place as a player. When asked about the change, Dhoni suggested that the pressure of leading the side had taken a toll on Jadeja and that it had “burdened his preparation and performance.” He hoped that with the all-rounder freed from the pressures of captaincy, he would regain his form.
Dhoni did make a winning start with CSK defeating Sunrisers Hyderabad by 13 runs but the leeway was too much to make up. Under his leadership, CSK won only one more match against Delhi Capitals. In fact, CSK hit their nadir in their next game against Mumbai Indians when they were bowled out for 97 and ultimately, Dhoni’s record was only fractionally better than Jadeja’s in that CSK won two out of six games in which he led. More to the point, his hope that Jadeja’s form would be reignited after he gave up the captaincy did not fructify as the all-rounder, probably distracted by the unhappy events, was unable to contribute either with bat or ball.
If there is a lesson driven home by the dismal showing, it is that CSK must be rebuilt even as Dhoni stays the captain. The form shown by some of the youngsters augurs well for the future and Choudhury for one seems to symbolize this. The 25-year-old left arm medium pacer who took 16 wickets in 13 games came in for a lot of praise from both Dhoni and the CSK head coach Stephen Fleming. Even as he rued the mishmash effort from the senior players, Fleming was of the view that it would drive them to step up next season. Yes, with better planning and performances in keeping with players’ reputations, CSK could well be back with a bang in 2023 shrugging off 2022 as a bad dream.