A boundary through covers from the bat of Chennai Super King’s highest run-getter of this IPL and CSK win their third IPL title, the joint-most by any team, in a one-sided final. How did it all happen?
Turn back the clock to 7 April, on this very ground, against the defending champions, CSK were down and out, requiring 47 off 3 overs with 2 wickets in hand.
Rewind a couple of months back to the auctions and you see experts rating the CSK side 4-5 out of 10, courtesy the number of aged players in their side. 33 was the average age of the side, and most players were past their prime, including the skipper.
Now, how did they lift the trophy on 27 May despite all these? How did they even manage to reach the finals? Let us go right back to the date of retention.
Retaining the Core:
CSK and MS Dhoni cannot be thought of separately. MS had to be back to CSK once the franchise returned and the CSK owners did as expected, retained the three core Indian players, Dhoni, Raina, and Jadeja. Not only that, but they also brought back the coaching staff too. And bringing in Hussey and Balaji was another masterstroke, who gelled well with the team, having part of the franchise previously.
Investing in Experience:
The average age of the CSK squad was 33, and this is why most experts regarded them as an aging side who would not be able to take the team even to playoffs. But CSK management had other ideas. They picked dependable players regardless of their age, who would take them deep into the tournament, be consistent and not be one-match shows.
They chose the road less taken by, not going with the common perception that T20 is a young men’s game. The wrong side of 30 was the right side of experience, CSK management did take this into consideration, and the results are there for everyone to see. Overall they picked a side full of multidimensional players.
Optimisation of Resources:
MS has always been an advocate of the importance of a good fielding side. But this time he had to move out of his comfort zone, had to compromise with fielding to accommodate experience. And credits to Dhoni the way he managed his resources, which were limited, to be honest. They did not have an experienced Indian pacer nor they had any foreign pacer on whom they can rely on. But as has been the case over the years, another Indian seamer got unearthed, who turned out to be the second-highest wicket-taker in the powerplays.
Watson after his 100 against RR, did not bowl much. Since the team management realized that Watson has too much to offer as a batsman and there is no gain in putting extra pressure on his body as a bowler. MS focussed on how he did not want players like Watson injures while saving a single or double. Result – Watson, despite carrying through the tournament a niggle, won them the most important final.
Ngidi would be the most improved cricketer going back to South Africa, after having a dream tournament. A good new-ball bowler, was given the confidence to bowl at the death at the business end of the tournament and he delivered in style.
Bravo not being as effective at the death as he used to be, was started being used in the middle overs towards the end of the season, which was beneficial both for the team as well as Bravo himself.
Rayudu, a batsman who can bat at any position from 1 to 7, was sent out to open and his free-flowing game helped him become CSK’s leading run-getter. He was pushed to no.4 when there was a need to tackle spinners against certain oppositions.
Tahir was used in initial matches, where pitches were conductive to spin, and after a string of wins, when playoffs seemed within reach, players like Ngidi and Willey were given more chances, keeping in mind the kind of pitches in playoffs. This long term thinking has been a trademark of MS.
Similarly, Jadeja got more and more overs as the league phase neared its end and the left-armer did deliver whenever required.
Despite having a team suitable for the slow pitch at Chepauk, the way they adapted to win at an entirely different kind of pitch at Pune shows how well they extracted the best out of the limited resources they had.
The Game of Instincts:
That MS follows his instincts is no hidden fact. How often do you see someone like Harbhajan play the game and not bowl a single over? Yes, Dhoni made it possible because he did not feel bowling Bhajji would help in the Qualifier 1. You would see someone like Jadeja bowl about 4 overs in 4 matches and next match, he is the strike bowler.
Sending in Harbhajan and Chahar to bat ahead of himself and Bravo was yet another out of the box decision. And he says he sent them to create Chaos.
MS is not someone who would plan too much and go into the match. He is someone who goes into the field, assesses the conditions and then chooses from the options he has, which of course he had in plenty.
As a result, it was almost impossible to outwit CSK, and this was the edge CSK had over most teams in most matches.
The No-Panic mantra for CSK:
Jadeja on being asked about the difference between CSK and other teams said “Other teams panic.” He was not wrong at all. A point comes in every match when one team panics, gets under pressure, but CSK were never going to be in that state, given the experience they had in their squad. CSK were a team who would not crack, you got to beat them on your own.
A new hero emerged every game, there was someone to save them every time the oppositions felt like they had the game, which was the trademark of the Australian team of the 2000s. Bravo, Billings, Watson, Rayudu, Raina, Dhoni, Faf, Ngidi, Jadeja, Chahar, Thakur everyone stood up at some point in time.
Now come back to 7 April, needing 47 off 3 overs. Bravo on strike, 20 each from the next 2 overs, and 7 required off the last over. The penultimate over saw Bravo turn the game on its head, hitting 3 sixes off Bumrah but fell on the last ball of the over. An injured Kedar with a poor hamstring, after playing 3 dot balls in the last over with utmost composure, got a six over fine leg and followed it up with a boundary through covers to mark the comeback of the Superkings. The tone was set right there in the very first match. It was a reflection of how CSK would play throughout the season.
Post this, CSK won numerous matches from situations where most other teams might have given up, each time by different personnel.
Now come back to Wankhede, 27 May, Watson 0 off 10, with a little niggle, asking rate slowly going past 10. Pressure mounting, but wait, they are CSK. How can we associate Pressure with CSK? Watson fought back and scored 117 off his next 47 balls and in the course made the game which looked in SRH’s favor till the 5th over, finish with 9 balls to spare and 8 wickets in hand. Kedar with a bad hamstring started the win and Watson again with a bad hamstring finished it off, thus completing a fairytale comeback.
And this is how CSK became the Champions in one of the most fiercely contested editions of IPL, in an edition where no team was an underdog nor was there any favorite. Ultimately experience outplayed everything else and credits to Fleming and co for investing in experience. And CSK scripted one of the most dramatic comebacks we can think of.