Any ardent fan of Chennai Super Kings on seeing the approach in a 217-run chase would not have been much concerned about their side going for a better Net Run Rate instead of 2 points in a game that they had a very low probability of winning. Two days later, a 175-run chase was made to look extremely tough, and this time neither there was intent nor there was the ability. And for the first time in a long while CSK seem to be one of the weakest sides on the field, with neither batting nor bowling clicking for them the way it should. Where have CSK, who hardly put a foot wrong, gone wrong this season?
The Spin Misery:
For a side known to strangle oppositions with spin and filled with batsmen well-equipped to handle quality spin, CSK have been quite below-par this season as far as spin is concerned, both while bowling as well as batting. The unavailability of Raina and Harbhajan, plus the lack of match practice for most of their batsmen led to a selection headache for the management, resulting in CSK fielding with just 5 bowlers; something which Dhoni is not known for. For a captain who has always believed in going into the field with multiple resources, Dhoni has clearly struggled to keep the opposition in check with his 5 frontline bowlers.
Ravindra Jadeja is someone who is not usually used by Dhoni as a 4-over bowler in the initial stages of the tournament and is given more role to play once the pitches get a bit used and assist turn a bit more. However, with no other options in the XI, Dhoni has to go to Jadeja for his 4 overs, and the outcome of which has been terrible so far.
Barring the first game against MI, where he turned the game by picking 2 wickets in his last over, Jadeja has been wicket-less and in all three games, he has had an economy of more than 10. The left-arm spinner has an economy of 10.50, which is 3.17 more than all other spinners this season and has picked a wicket every 63 balls, 46 more than other spinners.
In middle overs, which is where CSK usually choke oppositions, Jadeja and Chawla have let the game drift away. The two CSK spinners have conceded 9.79 runs per over and picked a wicket once every 24 balls. Chawla has managed to pick at least one wicket every game and has been relatively good barring the first two overs against RR and DC.
|Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush Chawla||9.79||24.00|
As a result, teams have totally dominated CSK in middle overs and that is where the biggest difference with the ball has been this season for CSK. The stark difference between how CSK bowled in the middle overs in the last 2 seasons and this season gives a clear insight why CSK have been below-par this year.
|CSK bowling in Middle Overs (7-15)||Runs per Over||Runs per Wicket|
|2018 and 2019||7.31||26.79|
While the pacers have made good comebacks in death overs in all three games (except the 30-run overs by Ngidi), the runs leaked in the middle overs have ultimately made the difference. And in just three games, CSK’s biggest strength has become their biggest weakness.
Compare this to how CSK have batted against spin this season:
|CSK Batsmen vs Spinners||131.25||20.57|
|Other Batsmen vs CSK Spinners||163.19||39.16|
The difference in strike rate as well as average between CSK batsmen and their counterparts against the spin units of each other shows a clear picture of where the game has drifted away from the yellow brigade.
The need to bring in the experienced Tahir just keeps on increasing every game, which is possible most likely by dropping the overseas pacer and going with an extra spinner.
Playing the Catch-up Game:
In all three games this season, Chennai Super Kings have won the toss and fielded first and their scores at the end of 10 overs have been 70/2, 82/4 and 47/3. In the first game which they won, the required run rate after 10 overs was 9.30, with two set batsmen at the crease, but at one stage they were 6/2 after 2 overs. In the other two games, the required run rates by the end of the 10th over has been 13.50 and 12.90 respectively, which do not get successfully chased more often than not. More so when you have a team with batsmen coming down the order known to take some time before taking on the bowlers.
The CSK openers Watson and Vijay have been guilty of taking too much time to settle in and what has been more disappointing is the fact that they have thrown their wickets away after taking up such a big percentage of the team’s overs and scoring so little. The openers have a combined strike rate of 100 and an average of 14.17. In all three games combined, the opposition batsmen have scored at a strike rate fo 153.61, which is 53 more than the CSK openers; no doubt why the middle order had to deal with immense pressure right from the start.
|CSK Openers||Strike Rate||Average|
In the game CSK won, both openers had departed inside 2 overs and consumed less than 10% of the team’s deliveries. Against RR, the percentage of required runs scored and the percentage of balls consumed by openers were 24.42% and 35.00% respectively, while against DC, it was 13.63% and 25.83%. The slow yet shaky start from the openers has put the middle order under the pump in both games, as a result, the middle order batsmen have been forced to play the catch-up game. It would not be wrong to say, in both the games the chase was killed in the first half itself.
Chennai Super Kings’ Need to Revamp:
Anyone who has followed Chennai Super Kings since the beginning would know this is not the kind of combination CSK usually play with; just 5 bowling options, a few guys playing out of positions, middle-order completely messed up without clear roles. The injury to Rayudu after the first game has not helped their cause too. The forced inclusion of Vijay, who apparently is not suitable to bat anywhere except the top-order, has forced the young Ruturaj to play in the middle order. In both games, when Ruturaj came in to bat, the required run rate was above 10 and the youngster playing out of his usual position clearly lacks exposure at this level to straightaway smash the opposition.
Kedar Jadhav, someone who is expected to accelerate the scoring rate in middle and death overs, has completely failed in his role. He played an entire season in 2019 with a sub-100 strike rate. Jadhav has not shown any improvement this season either and is on track for yet another season without intent; clearly a burden on the team. Skipper Dhoni, who carried the batting for the side almost single-handedly last season, seems to be out of touch and continues to play down the order. At some point he has to figure out it is up to him and not the Jadhavs and Jadejas to do the big-hitting, they are still not ready, they never were and probably never will be.
What CSK can do when Rayudu comes back?
The opening combination needs to be rejigged and Imran Tahir needs to be brought in by some means. One way can be opening with Sam Curran and Ruturaj. This will mean lack of experience at the top but will open up an extra overseas spot to include Tahir. Otherwise, they can simply drop the overseas pacer and bring in Tahir, play Watson and Ruturaj at the top for a few games and if Ruturaj does not succeed, send in the pinch hitter Curran to open.
The strategy needs to be revised, the sixth bowling option needs to be included, at the cost of one of Ruturaj or Kedar. Kedar, with the lack of intent as well as the power game, should ideally be shown the door, given CSK have Rayudu, Dhoni, Jadeja and Sam Curran to take care of the middle order.
All said, no matter what we think the team should look like or what changes they should make, it is up to the skipper MS Dhoni, who has his own ways of getting the best out of his players, his own ways of succeeding amidst all adversaries. CSK, like every other season, can not be written off yet and there is no reason why they can not bounce back. The 7-day break is a much-needed one and all fans can hope is to see the men in yellow in a rejuvenated and re-energized form.