Chennai Super Kings have qualified for IPL playoffs every single season. This year, they are virtually through as well having already acquired the 16 points that are generally enough to make it to the next stage. And while there are very few certainties in life, and less so in sport, there was a certain inevitability to it.
Very few teams have ‘owned’ a tournament brand the way CSK have done in the IPL. So deeply entrenched is the yellow of CSK in the minds of even casual cricket fans, the two years that Chennai were forced away from the league following the spot fixing scandal during 2016/17 seems already consigned to the history books. Chennai are winning and it’s what matters it seems.
After the Super Kings registered their eighth win of the 2019 season against Sunrisers Hyderabad, super skipper MS Dhoni was asked, during the post match presentation, the reason behind Chennai’s continued success under his leadership. “If I tell everyone what it is, then they won’t buy me at the auctions. It’s a trade secret,” Dhoni replied.
Well, it isn’t much of a secret, is it? The secret behind their success is Dhoni himself.
The veteran keeper is at his best in the T20 format. The length of the innings, the agility required as a captain, plus the importance of reliable rather than spectacular players makes it the prefect format for Dhoni. He is good elsewhere but a class apart in 20 overs.
Dhoni knows what he likes and backs the players he is comfortably with to the hilt. It comes as no surprise that Dhoni has kept the core of the Super Kings team – namely Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo – with him. Also, he has identified veteran performers who aren’t flashy but are mighty effective.
In 2015 – when CSK made it to the final before their two-year suspension – they had genuine oldies in Dwayne Smith, Mike Hussey and Ashish Nehra in the playing XI. Now they have the ageing/ed Imran Tahir, Shane Watson and Bravo in the mix. All three are central to Dhoni’s plan of having experienced players assessing the conditions and doing just enough to take the team past the finish line.
After the win against Hyderabad, opener Watson – who had been having a poor season before hitting 96 against Sunrisers – thanked Dhoni for backing him when other teams would have long dropped him.
Dhoni is one of the very few who realises that having a maverick hitter like Andre Russell in the team is of no use if the team loses five matches in a row – as has been the case with KKR. There is no power hitter in the CSK side, nor do they have a quality second seamer. Just a bunch of experienced heads either scoring one run more than the opposition or restricting them to one less.
Then there is the emotion. Dhoni clearly holds CSK closer to his heart than some other aspects of his cricket. His former India team-mate Virender Sehwag recently alluded to it when discussing the incredible moment in the match against Rajasthan Royals when Dhoni entered the playing field to argue with the umpires over a no-ball call. “I never saw him so angry while playing for India. He is very emotional for Chennai,” Sehwag had said.
Back in 2010, Chennai were having a below average campaign. In their clash against Kings XI Punjab, Chennai needed 30 off the last two overs. The usually cool Dhoni hit Irfan Pathan for 16 off the final over, let out a roar and banged the side of his helmet with his glove.
Have you ever seen Dhoni crying?? Watch out here ❤❤ The name is CHENNAI SUPER KINGS 💛💛 pic.twitter.com/cPNrppwTZg— Ramkumar (@RamVJ2412) March 29, 2018
In 2018, when the Super Kings franchise returned to the IPL fold, an emotional Dhoni almost broke into tears while addressing the media.
Maybe it’s because of the unprecedented adulation the city has given to its most famous adopted son; CSK’s training games are viewed by a full house at the Chepauk. Maybe it’s due to the complete freedom he enjoys as the undisputed leader of CSK as opposed to his harrowing stint as Rising Pune Super Giant captain which ended up with him being publicly sacked by the team owner.
The reasons are many. But the bottomline is CSK’s success as a playing group starts and ends with Dhoni.
For Kolkata, it will be a chance to arrest a dramatic slide that has seen them lose five matches on the bounce with the latest coming in the form of a crushing nine-wicket defeat to Sunrisers Hyderabad.
That comprehensive loss has seen KKR drop out of the top-four with a play-off spot now looking in jeopardy.
RUSSELL’S BATTING POSITION
The batting position of Andre Russell in the KKR line up has been a subject of major debate. The West Indies all-rounder has single-handedly taken Kolkata across the finish line on several occasions this year with some explosive cameos down the order.
However, KKR have been guilty of underutilising Russell’s talents by making him bat at No6 and it proved costly in their 10-run defeat to Royal Challengers Bangalore while chasing 214.
Even in Kolkata’s most recent loss against SRH, Russell came in to bat at No7 when there were only four overs left in the innings. When a player is smashing the ball at a strike-rate of well over 200 and average of over 65, it seems foolish to only allow him a few overs at the crease.
KKR coach Jacques Kallis has stated that the side remain flexible with regards to Russell’s batting position while the all-rounder himself has expressed his desire to bat higher up the order. Hence, it will be interesting to see where Russell bats on Thursday.
Just watching the IPL on @FOXSports. Can’t understand why KKR have the master blaster Andre Russell batting at number 7. What a waste.— Mark Waugh (@juniorwaugh349) April 21, 2019
OFF COLOUR SENIORS
That Kolkata have been too dependent on Russell’s big-hitting to bail them out this season is no secret with several other stars in the squad failing to pull their weight.
The likes of skipper Dinesh Karthik and top-order stalwart Robin Uthappa are two such players who have failed to come to the party in the 2019 campaign. While Karthik is averaging less than 20 with the bat this year, Uthappa has only managed 184 runs so far from nine innings.
The two senior batsmen have been the biggest letdowns for the two-time champions and it is no wonder that the team has struggled of late. Post the loss to SRH, several Kolkata players including Karthik and Uthappa were given time off which they utilised by undertaking several net sessions in Mumbai.
Uthappa was dropped from the previous game and it remains to be seen of he makes it back.
DO OR DIE FOR RAJASTHAN
Rajasthan Royals’ decision to have Steve Smith as skipper instead of Ajinkya Rahane seems to have infused a new life into their campaign with the side recording a fine win over Mumbai Indians before amassing 191 runs against Delhi Capitals. However, a Rishabh Pant avalanche saw Smith’s men fail to defend that challenging total on their home ground and that has now left them in a precarious spot.
The 2008 champions will now need to win each of their remaining four league encounters to have any chance of making the play-offs and even that might not be enough. They put together a run of five straight wins to sneak into the play-offs last year but that came on the back of a fine individual campaign from Jos Buttler. The England batsman has already returned home and the Royals will need to find inspiration from somewhere else if they are to make a late charge.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik (c and wk), Rinku Singh, Harry Gurney, Piyush Chawla, Prasidh Krishna, KC Cariappa.
Rajasthan Royals: Ajinkya Rahane, Sanu Samson (wk), Steve Smith, Ben Stokes, Liam Livingstone, Stuart Binny, Riyan Parag, Jofra Archer, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat, Dhawal Kulkarni.
It has been some debut Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign for Jonny Bairstow with the England batsman forging the most successful partnership in the 2019 edition alongside his fellow Sunrisers Hyderabad opener David Warner.
Bairstow’s maiden IPL stint came to an end on Tuesday with Hyderabad’s six-wicket loss to Chennai Super Kings with the Englishman being dismissed for a duck in his final outing. However, his contributions prior to the CSK defeat had been nothing short of outstanding with the right-hander finishing his season with 445 runs from 10 innings.
Bairstow averaged 55.62 with the bat in the IPL while maintaining a strike-rate of over 157 and his crowning achievement came in his side’s home clash against Royal Challengers Bangalore where he registered a superb ton.
Motivating himself for his maiden IPL bow wasn’t too hard to do for Bairstow who was not picked in the 2018 IPL auction despite throwing his hat into the ring.
“It’s not difficult to motivate yourself at all,” Bairstow told ESPNcricinfo in an interview.
“It’s a competition that I’ve really, really wanted to play a number of years. You hear stories about people coming over and playing, and it being such a fantastic competition. The fans, how fanatical they are, the atmosphere at the ground.
Jonny Bairstow in IPL 2019 :— Johns (@CricCrazyJohns) April 23, 2019
Matches - 10
Innings - 10
Runs - 445
Average - 55.62
Strike Rate - 157.24
Hundred - 1
Fifty - 2
Fours - 48
Sixes - 18
The best debut season by any overseas player (excluding 2008 Ipl season), see you in 2020. Thank You @jbairstow21. #IPL2019 pic.twitter.com/YDcuSiSuQy
“The whole way it’s put together is brilliant. If you can’t motivate yourself to get up and play in front of 30,000 to 40,000 people, then you’re not in the right job.”
Such has been the impact of the wicketkeeper batsman that he managed to keep out Kane Williamson from the Sunrisers playing XI. Williamson had led Hyderabad to a runner-up finish in the 2018 edition in David Warner’s absence and scored 755 runs over the course of the season.
“With the four overseas players that can play in any team, and you look at the overseas players that we’ve got within the squad, you’ve got four guys that are not playing currently that can be in any moment. So, no, by no means did I think I’d be starting the tournament,” Bairstow said.
“I just saw it as an opportunity to go out there and enjoy myself, and play the IPL. That was purely and simply what it was.
“To experience a new task, a new challenge, to be able to go out and explore the skills that I’ve been working on and go and play in front of a fantastic crowd in that first game at Eden Gardens.”
With Bairstow’s stint now over, stand-in Sunrisers skipper Bhuvneshwar Kumar has admitted that the Englishman will be a big miss for the remainder of the IPL 2019 campaign.
“There is no doubt that these guys have done really well but I won’t say (we are) upset. We have got guys who can replace him (Bairstow),” Bhuvneshwar said after Tuesday’s defeat.
“But the way he performed, we will miss him.”