The versatile Chennai Super Kings (CSK) will once again be the team to beat in the Indian Premier League. The most successful side in the competition, it certainly is.
This said, CSK will need to shut out the controversies from the last edition and retain focus. The upcoming tournament will be a test of character for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men.
Firepower, the side has in plenty. Smart with its money, CSK has made the right move by buying the explosive Brendon McCullum. This Kiwi is a game changer with his bat-speed and ability to disrupt length.
Despite being an underachiever in international cricket, West Indies’ Dwayne Smith has been a handful in the IPL with his power hitting and seam bowling. He has tormented CSK in the past; now he will be turning out for the team in yellow. Another West Indian, leg-spinner Samuel Badree, could add variety to the bowling. Not a big spinner of the ball, he bowls wicket-to-wicket and can hurt with his bounce and subtle variations in length.
Add these men to a side that already has several ‘impact’ players and you do have a formidable outfit. Skipper Dhoni lends depth to the line-up. The left-handed Suresh Raina can knock bowlers off rhythm.
R. Ashwin’s ability to bowl at the beginning of the innings or at the death without losing the attacking instinct in his bowling makes this off-spinner a valued member of the outfit. Ravindra Jadeja combines big-hitting with left-arm spin that can be effective if the ball grips.
CSK will miss the solidity and enterprise of Michael Hussey but will look at Faf du Plessis — he has the flexibility of technique to don different roles — to fill the breach. And Dwayne Bravo’s canny swing bowling and batting pyrotechnics make him a prized possession.
No leading paceman
A powerful batting unit and a side with potent spin options, CSK is. If there is a shortcoming in the side, it is the absence of a leader in the pace pack. Ben Hilfenhaus, not becoming younger, can be an incisive swing bowler but then will CSK manage to fit him in, given that only four foreign cricketers can figure in the eleven.
And would Hilfenhaus, unlike a Dale Steyn, or a Mitchell Johnson, or a Lasith Malinga, be worth the risk.
CSK has tried to manage this problem by roping in promising domestic pacemen Ishwar Pandey and Ronit More to lend India paceman Mohit Sharma support. Veteran left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra is also in the mix. The lanky, young Kiwi paceman, Matt Henry could emerge the surprise packet with his bounce and seam movement.
The team: M.S. Dhoni (captain), Brendon McCullum, Faf du Plessis, Dwayne Smith, Dwayne Bravo, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mohit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Samuel Badree, John Hastings, Ronit More, Ashish Nehra, Mithun Manhas, Baba Aparajith, Vijay Shankar, Matt Henry and Pawan Negi.
BEST FINISHES: Winner in 2010 and 2011; Runner-up in 2008, 2012, 2013.
WIN-LOSS RECORD: Played: 99, Won: 59; Lost 38; Tied 1; No Result 1.
TOP PERFORMERS: Leading run-getter: Suresh Raina (2802 runs in 99 matches); Highest wicket-taker: Albie Morkel (76 in 78 matches)
WATCH OUT FOR
It can be a hard job, dismissing the ball to the distant corners of the ground at the crunch, ‘keeping wickets and leading the side in a format where the match can swing in a single over.
That Mahendra Singh Dhoni has managed to captain Chennai Super Kings to two title triumphs, three finals and a semifinal in the six editions of the Indian Premier League so far is a remarkable tale of consistency and the ability to withstand pressure — both physical and mental.
He shuffles his fielders around, rotates the bowlers tactfully and invariably wins the key moments with a mix of equanimity and calculated aggression.
And then his wristy hits find the gaps or soar over the fence. Dhoni ’keeps with quiet efficiency. The skipper is easily CSK’s most valuable player.