Don’t count out the old new Chennai

Author : Wisden 5 Apr, 2018

They’re back.

After serving a two-year suspension along with Rajasthan Royals, the Chennai franchise is set to return to a tournament it has dominated in the past. The Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led side is one of the most successful in the competition, having won the championship twice and made at least the top-four every single time it has participated.

Now, Chennai have got much of their core back – through retention and in the auction process – making their fans happy. The number of people turning out to watch practice sessions at the MA Chidambaram stadium – 15,000 attended an intra-squad warm-up game – is proof that the franchise has succeeded in retaining fan-interest.

But is that necessarily a good strategy for on-field results? Are the players who once dominated the format still good enough? There have been question marks over Dhoni’s powers in T20 cricket over the last year. Suresh Raina is just about making a comeback to the national side. Ravindra Jadeja and M Vijay are out of favour with the selectors in the limited-overs formats. Dwayne Bravo has had a tough time with injuries. The strategy Chennai adopted during the auction also left plenty confused.

But Dhoni and Co. know a thing or two about winning trophies, especially in the yellow jersey, and it’s best not to count them out.

Chennai’s strength lies in their experience. With the likes of Dhoni, Raina, Shane Watson, Harbhajan Singh and Bravo, they’ve got guys who have been there and done that. Add to it a backroom staff line-up that includes Stephen Fleming and Michael Hussey, and Chennai have got plenty of experienced people to guide the youngsters in a high-pressure tournament.

Chennai also have a solid spin attack, with Imran Tahir and Karn Sharma to go with Harbhajan and Jadeja. They should have had Mitchell Santner too, but the New Zealand allrounder was sidelined for nine months with an injury.

In a way, Chennai’s strength is their weakness. In short, this would have been a terrific squad if the year was 2013. Now, they’re in danger of having picked players who are past their prime. Example: Watson was contemplating retirement after a horrible last season but finds himself the key allrounder in the side now.

The fast-bowling department looks thin too. Shardul Thakur, who is just about establishing himself in the Indian team, is the biggest name among Indian pacers. Mark Wood and Llungi Ngidi are the foreign pace options, apart from Watson and Bravo.

In the eight seasons they played, Chennai have won twice and made it to the final four other times. They’re the only franchise to have made it to the final-four in every IPL edition they’ve been a part of.

Chennai were suspended from IPL 2016 and 2017 after Gurunath Meiyappan, one of the team officials, was found guilty of betting.

Chennai Super Kings or Chennai Senior Kings? That was the question posed by plenty who followed Chennai’s strategy on auction day. As many as 12 of their players are above 30, making one wonder if Chennai missed out on an opportunity to build a team for the future.

Even after retaining their core, Chennai surprised many by almost exclusively going for spin options, leaving their pace department thin. They heavily banked on buying Jaydev Unadkat in the auction, but in the end could not afford him.

The auction strategy, however, suggests Chennai would play on slow turners at home. If that’s the nature of the pitches, the strategy could well work in their favour given their spin-bowling options.

Shardul Thakur: This could be the breakthrough season for the pacer from Mumbai. He is beginning to establish himself as a pace option for the national side, and could enhance his reputation with a good IPL season. The Chennai squad combination could mean that Thakur is nearly guaranteed a place in the starting XI for each game, and he would be keen to utilise the opportunity. Expect plenty of knuckle balls and slower deliveries from him on slow, dry surfaces at Chepauk.

MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Faf du Plessis, Harbhajan Singh, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu, Deepak Chahar, KM Asif, Kanishk Seth, Lungisani Ngidi, Dhruv Shorey, M Vijay, Sam Billings, Mark Wood, Kshitiz Sharma, Monu Kumar, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Imran Tahir, Karn Sharma, Shardul Thakur, N Jagadeesan.

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