The Chennai Super Kings (CSK) will have to think long and hard about the opening slot ahead of Sunday's final of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

His form turning from bad to worse, Matthew Hayden is not inspiring confidence in the middle. His last four innings in the competition have been zero, one, five and eight. Hayden is getting on in years and his reflexes have slowed down. He is no longer the domineering batsman he once was.

Lucky

In fact, CSK has been lucky to progress so far in the competition despite Hayden's wretched from. Against the Deccan Chargers in the second semifinal, it did appear as if the great Australian was playing from memory. He was dropped twice — regulation catches both — before being dismissed soon.

While the temptation to play Hayden can be huge — there is this feeling that a batsman of his ability is only one innings away from big runs — will CSK gamble in a title clash?

The CSK has two options. It can pick Michael Hussey, another left-hander, as an opener and back him to keep one end going; he can rotate the strike capably apart from piercing the field when provided the width or the length. With Hussey providing stability from one end, the heavy-hitters in the CSK ranks can pound the bowling from the other.

Or, CSK can promote Anirudha Srikkanth as an opener, enabling the side to select the big-hitting Justin Kemp as a batting all-rounder. During his valuable 15-ball 24 down the order against the Chargers, Anirudha did strike the ball with panache. Being a natural opener, Anirudha could fit the bill.

Since CSK is fielding three spinners, such a move could enable the team have some cover on the pace-bowling front manned by the irrepressible Doug Bollinger and Albie Morkel. If Kemp is around, Dhoni could call on the South African for a couple of overs or more if one of the frontline bowlers goes for runs.

The selection of an eleven is a lot about playing to one's strengths, and, with the domestic pacemen failing to deliver, CSK is right in fielding three spinners, one of them an overseas cricketer. The return of off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan into the mix has to be welcomed.

Outstanding

Talking about spin, R. Ashwin has been outstanding for CSK. Among those who have sent down more than six overs in this edition, the off-spinner's economy rate of 6.11 is the best. He has bowled with control and subtle variations with the new ball when the field restrictions are in place.

He has also claimed 13 wickets at 20.69; his ability to release the ball late judiciously has been one of his strengths.

The off-spinner, as he revealed, is using his index finger more and is bowling with a straighter wrist position. Consequently, there is more spin and revolution on the ball. Tamil Nadu coach W.V. Raman enabled Ashwin gain more momentum and rhythm in his run-up and NCA coach D. Vasu helped him get his wrist position right. Of course, Bollinger, with his speed, lift and precision has proved a match-winner for CSK. He is a committed, bustling bowler, who can strike at both the beginning and the end of an innings.

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