One of the oldest sayings in sport is: Do not leave your destiny in someone else's hands. Defending champion Chennai Super Kings has done just that in this edition of the Indian Premier League.
Finishing the league phase with 17 points from 16 games, CSK requires Delhi Daredevils to defeat Kings XI Punjab and Deccan Chargers to overcome Royal Challengers Bangalore.
While sport can throw up surprises and it would be hasty to write off CSK, an objective assessment of the Chennai side's performance in the league stage of IPL-V reflects a below-par display so far.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men's have been the most consistent side in the competition; they have triumphed twice and reached the final and the semifinals once each. This time around the different arms of the team have not functioned in cohesion.
A batting powerhouse, CSK has been let down by ordinary batsmanship this season. The fact that the highest individual score by a CSK batsman this season so far is 73 by South African import Faf du Plessis tells the story.
The lack of big innings by a top-order batsman — the rest of the batting could have revolved around those knocks — deprived the CSK line-up of stability. The constant tinkering with the opening combination meant CSK did not possess a settled top-order when it mattered most.
The talented du Plessis conjured up some delightful cameos but could not push on to bigger things, Murali Vijay barely showed flashes of brilliance, the hard-working S. Badrinath received a raw deal and the otherwise dependable Michael Hussey essayed a terrible stroke at a critical juncture against Kings XI.
CSK was not helped by the fact that its impact player of the seasons gone by — Suresh Raina — returned a top-score of 44 in the league phase. The hunger and the desire of the past were lacking this time around.
The pacing of the innings remained an issue with CSK. Skipper Dhoni promoted himself in the order but could not provide the much-needed impetus to batting. Dhoni made 269 runs in 16 matches at 24.45 but his strike rate of 112.55 and a highest score of 40 were disappointing returns. Dwayne Bravo and Albie Morkel, multi-dimensional cricketers with explosive batting ability, had their moments in tight finishes yet CSK, bravely, should have fielded either a special overseas batsman or a paceman in one of these two slots. An excess of all-rounders — CSK had another one of them in Ravindra Jadeja — meant the side was short of specialists. Ben Hilfenhaus , an outstanding swing bowler, missed a potent pace partner who could have also donned the role of a ‘death' bowler. Hilfenhaus can be influential with the new ball but CSK was without a bowler with pace, incision and swing in the end overs.
Given his price tag of $2 million, CSK did not make optimum use of Jadeja. The fact that Dhoni, for most part, decided to field two left-arm spinners in the eleven meant they often cut into each other. All the more surprising since Jadeja's 120 wickets in 38 first class games at 28.01 compares favourably with Shadab Jakati's 136 scalps in 52 matches at 32.99.
Jadeja has 57 wickets in 58 ODIs for India at 38.42 while Jakati is yet to represent the country in any format.
Spinners rely on captains for confidence and Dhoni's handling of Jadeja vis a vis management of overs would not have instilled belief in the bowler. Consequently, Jadeja was largely a let down in the league phase with his batting too firing only in fits and starts.
The side also searched in vain for a reliable Indian paceman — Yomahesh has to work on his control — and the continued non-inclusion of Sudip Tyagi was baffling. And The fact that rival batsmen appeared to have ‘sorted out' off-spinner R. Ashwin's variations did not help matters either. While Ashwin's economy rate was a creditable 6.34, he took only nine wickets in 16 matches.
The inability of the spinners to strike telling blows was the principal reason for CSK not being the same force at home.