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Kings of strategy too

S. DINAKAR
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CRICKET Chennai Super Kings has proved its mettle not only on field, but also off field by putting together a powerful team at the recent IPL auction

CELEBRATIONS Chennai Super Kings after winning the final against Mumbai Indians in the DLF IPL Twenty20 tournament, Mumbai Photo: K. R. Deepak
CELEBRATIONS Chennai Super Kings after winning the final against Mumbai Indians in the DLF IPL Twenty20 tournament, Mumbai Photo: K. R. Deepak

W hile Chennai Super Kings (CSK) has largely dished out winning cricket on the field, it has been smart off the arena as well. The Indian Premier League's most successful team — CSK is the holder of the IPL and the Champions League titles apart from reaching the semifinals and the final of the first two editions — made plenty of right moves at the IPL Player auction in Bangalore.

The CSK plan was clear. It wanted to retain the nucleus of a winning team headed by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and consolidate its gains. The side also desired a strong local flavour so that the Chennai crowd could ‘connect' with the team.

This explains why CSK retained opener Murali Vijay for $900,000 and bought back off-spinner R. Ashwin ($850,000) and middle-order batsman S. Badrinath ($800,000).

This strategy was in marked contrast to the approach of several other teams that opted for wholesale changes with very little local presence. Royal Challengers Bangalore, for instance, even let go power-hitter Robin Uthappa, a star cricketer from Karnataka.

A powerful batting unit, CSK managed to add more thrust to the pace bowling department. During the first three editions of the IPL, there were occasions when CSK appeared lacking in pace bowling depth. Let's focus on this critical area first.

Importantly, the side won back Aussie paceman Doug Bollinger for $700,000. Bollinger's left-arm angle and accuracy had been crucial to CSK's dramatic revival of fortunes in Season – III. Now, Bollinger will have compatriot Ben Hilfenhous' right-arm swing bowling for company with the new ball. Pace pairs of contrast often dent line-ups and this left-right combination of seam and swing could contain and sting.

A fuller length and movement in the air are valuable assets in Twenty20 cricket and Hilfenhous might just prove the man CSK seeks. In fact, it picked Hilfenhous at a very reasonable price of $100,000. CSK's signing of Sri Lankan seamer Nuwan Kulasekara makes sense too. The disciplined Kulasekara comprehends the art of bowling on sub-continental tracks. He has excelled in the shorter formats.

The Chennai outfit also retained pace-bowling all-rounder Albie Morkel. The South African has struck vital blows with his right-arm pace bowling; Morkel can surprise the batsmen with speed, and has a deceptive short-pitched delivery. The West Indian all-rounder, Dwanye Bravo, purchased at $200,000, is a versatile customer. His yorkers and change of pace might prove handy. Of course, domestic signings such as Sudip Tyagi and Joginder Sharma will have to contribute to the attack considering only four foreign cricketers can figure in the eleven. Eventually, we might not find more than two overseas bowlers in the XI. But then, greater depth in the pace bowling department — invariably impacted adversely by injuries — is not going to hurt. On the flip side, Kolkata Knight Riders won Lakshmipathy Balaji from CSK. The Chennai side did attempt to retain the lanky paceman but was not willing to go as high as $500,000 that the Kolkata side eventually paid for Balaji. Finding a worthy domestic paceman from a pool of uncapped cricketers will be among CSK's main priorities.

In spin bowling, CSK went up to $1 million for off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan but eventually lost out to the Kochi franchise. The CSK, however, might not feel the loss for two reasons — Muralitharan is aging and Ashwin has excelled in the IPL with his two-way spin and the confidence to bowl in all situations.

CSK also made up for Muralitharan's departure by snapping up rising Sri Lankan off-spinner Suraj Randiv. The tall Randiv can get the ball to spin sharply and extract telling bounce. The hard-hitting South African all-rounder, Faf du Plessis, claimed by CSK for $120,000, is a handy leg-spin bowler.

Apart from Du Plessis, Morkel, Bravo and Scott Styris (bought for $200,000) lend balance to the side as multi-dimensional players. A fighting cricketer in an old-fashioned sense, Styris is essentially a back-up for Bravo. There is a question mark over Bravo's availability for the entire duration of the IPL given the West Indies' international commitments.

Batting powerhouse

CSK remains a batting powerhouse. The Chennai side held on to Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Vijay and Morkel, using up the maximum available limit of $4.5 million for retaining players without auction from a total purse of $9 million.

At the auction, CSK rightly bought back-in-form Aussie left-hander Michael Hussey for $425,000. Hussey can both rotate the strike with deft placements and find the gaps with punishing strokes. He will be an asset at the top of the order. Although different in his methods, Hussey will be the right replacement for the influential Matthew Hayden.

CSK does appear a solid all-round unit.

S. DINAKAR

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