It has been an enthralling start to the IPL season for the Chennai Super Kings and its fans. After two come-from-behind run chases that both ended with just one ball to spare, the Super Kings and its large following are quite understandably pleased with their results. But it took two miraculous individual performances along with elements of luck, to secure both victories for Super Kings.
In the first game in Mumbai, Dwayne Bravo put in a superlative effort, scoring 68 of just 30 balls along with seven maximums. Their first home game saw CSK fall heavily behind the required rate, but a wonderful knock of 56 from 23 balls by Sam Billings coupled with a very questionable no-ball call in the final over saw CSK get over the line.
In fact, the overall performances of CSK in both matches was quite sub-par, especially on the field. The team runs the risk of papering over the cracks that need to be tended to.
In both games, Chennai decided to go with Imran Tahir, Ravindra Jadeja and Harbhajan Singh and going in with three spinners can be considered questionable, especially in a T20 match. Jadeja can be useful and Harbhajan on his day can be a menace. But, having played them, the three of them bowled a combined total of just 13 overs across the two games - just five overs in the first game and followed up with another eight overs on Tuesday night.
The three spinners have actually done a fine job when called upon. CSK have conceded a total of 367 runs in the first 40 overs of the IPL across the two games played. This means as a team they have conceded 9.17 runs per over. Jadeja, Tahir and Harbhajan together have given away a total of 96 runs in the 13 overs they have bowled, which means they are leaking 7.38 runs per over. The wicket taking numbers aren’t great either with only two wickets taken between them, but, in a T20 game, conceding almost 2 runs per over less than the other options is a huge difference.
Coming to the quicker bowlers, CSK have only two recognised bowlers who can consistently hit the 140km per hour mark - Lungisani Ngidi from South Africa and Mark Wood from England. Since both are overseas players, it would be tough for the Super Kings to play them together. In the first game, they went with Wood. Wood was playing his first IPL game which also happened to be his first game in India. Wood struggled in his IPL debut and conceded 49 runs in his 4 overs. The most logical replacement for Wood would have been Ngidi, but, as a bit of a surprise, Dhoni and the coaching staff went with Shardul Thakur who didn’t have nearly the same bite as either Wood or Ngidi. This left CSK with four medium pacers. Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar conceded a mammoth 144 runs in their 12 combined overs in last night’s game against the Knight Riders.
The usual nature of the Chepauk stadium is that the pitch tends to play low and slow and hence doesn’t suit the quicker bowlers as much. That was proven wrong by Andre Russell, the quickest bowler in the Knight Riders, as he was the second most economical bowler for them on Tuesday. Sunil Narine, who is by far the best spinner in their team, was the best bowler for them on the night when he bowled a fantastic spell of 1 for 17 in his 4 overs with an economy rate of 4.25. This shows that the most effective method of bowling in T20s is to have a crafty spinner keeping the run rate down, combined with a fire-breathing quick steaming in from the other end.
Finally, MS Dhoni as a captain is starting to run the risk of being predictably unpredictable. He started off with five different bowlers bowling the first five overs of the game. He then introduced a sixth bowler by which time the innings had reached its mid-point. The seventh and final bowler he used was Dwayne Bravo. It is well known that Bravo thrives while bowling at the death, so it was quite predictable that he would be introduced in the 12th or 13th over and would occupy one end for the rest of the innings. The problem here was that the opposing danger-man at the time was his fellow West Indian teammate Andre Russell. Russell knew exactly what Bravo was trying to do with almost each and every ball in his spell. As it happened, Bravo only ended up bowling 3 out of his quota of 4 overs, conceding 50 runs at an economy of 16.67 runs an over.
The CSK staff have done a fantastic job in the off-season to constitute a team consisting of youth and experience. But, following the loss of Kedhar Jadhav, they do look quite depleted on the batting end and cannot afford to leak so many runs on a regular basis. Their bowling line-up is good but so far hasn’t been utilised to its full potential. If the Super Kings are to have a long run in the tournament, Dhoni along with his coaching staff need to fix certain strategic errors and incorporate fresh and new ideas on the field to make up for their lack of batting in the middle order.
(Note: Views expressed by the author are personal.)