An iconic side with a charismatic leader that never failed to qualify for the Indian Premier League playoffs missed out on this occasion.
It was a difficult tournament for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) from the time the side’s game-changing Suresh Raina flew home for personal reasons .
And then the experienced and wily Harbhajan Singh , the only off-spinner in the side, withdrew from the competition.
To make matters worse, CSK’s most exciting young batsman Ruturaj Gaikwad and swing bowler Deepak Chahar went down with COVID-19 that impacted their preparation.
So CSK began the competition on the wrong foot. Ruturaj took quite a while to recover and when he came into the side, was not in his element.
It was only towards the end of the competition, when he received a second run, Ruturaj showed his gift of timing, the ability to get to the pitch of the ball, find the gaps.
Truth to tell, CSK was nixed by injuries. The side could have defeated Delhi Capitals had not Dwayne Bravo run into fitness concerns before the final over.
With his best ‘Death bowler’ missing in action, M.S. Dhoni brought on Ravindra Jadeja with two left-handers Shikhar Dhawan and Axar Patel together. Jadeja went for plenty and CSK lost a game it should have won.
In the end there was not much separating the sides. CSK, which later turned a party-pooper, finished with six wins.
And two teams, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad, progressed to the play-offs with seven victories.
This is, arguably, the most highly competitive IPL ever, and CSK was also hurt by its star cricketers not becoming younger.
Dhoni was alert behind the stumps but suffered a slump in front of it with KKR’s Varun Chakravarthy castling him twice in pressure situations in two matches.
The Dhoni of old would have revelled in these scenarios. He is still quick between the wickets but if he doesn’t play domestic cricket and other tournaments, it will be very hard for Dhoni to straightaway come and score runs in the demanding IPL.
When CSK returned to the IPL after serving a two-year ban, the side opted for experience, not looking at the age of the players.
The side triumphed in 2018, and reached the final in 2019, with the same bunch of cricketers affectionately called by many as Dad’s Army.
However, in 2020 the age began to show itself on the field of play. There were occasions when the CSK players appeared to be struggling physically.
Faf du Plessis was in terrific touch but the same could not be said of many others. And tactically someone like Jadeja, an explosive batsman, could have been promoted in the order with Raina not around.
The future of CSK lies in youngsters such as Ruturaj and Sam Curran, who bowled and batted with zest and gusto.
CSK has to rebuild with youth at the heart of it all.