Anatomy of a disaster
Chennai Super Kings have had a disastrous Indian Premier League. For the first time, barring their two-year ban for corruption, they have failed to qualify for the play-offs.
At times, they have looked as though strategy has been concocted on the back of the fag packet from which they take their name. Consistently they have wheezed and hacked their way through their batting innings. In the field they have lacked direction and smarts.
It has all been most un-Chennai. Coming into the tournament, they should have been at least competitive considering on pitches which have slowed they had an army of spinners picked for those exact sort of surfaces back home. So what has gone wrong. Here is the anatomy of the disaster…
Raina leaves hole
Suresh Raina, their all-time top runscorer, quit the IPL before a ball was bowled for personal reasons. Some speculated he had fallen out with Dhoni before he revealed that there had been a death in the family. It robbed the Super Kings of a much-needed left-hander in their top order, meaning they would eventually try to bat Sam Curran at the top. Raina’s cool hands and calm head were sorely missed as the batting consistently flopped.
Finally, they’re too old
Every year the CSK detractors said they would fail because they were tool old. This time they were right. MS Dhoni’s decline has been laid bare while Shane Watson, often reliable in the first powerplay, has misfired. Watson had been explosive in the Pakistan Super League only this year in the UAE so his slowdown, against weaker bowlers, took CSK by surprise.
It was clear something was not right with Chennai’s in-game brain when they took on Rajasthan in Sharjah in their second game. Skipper Dhoni kept bowling Ravi Jadeja and Piyush Chawla, who fed Sanju Samson’s ferocious hitting on short boundaries with a diabolical mix of half-volleys, full tosses and half trackers. Samson hit nine sixes. Jadeja and Chawla each bowled their full quota, going for 95. Insane.
The pressure got to Stephen Fleming, the coach. Fleming was visibly irritated when he was questioned why Kedar Jhadav was batting at No 4 after one of the worst innings you will see in a chase. Against Sunrisers, Kedar made three from ten balls to suffocate their chances. “Because he’s our No 4,” snapped Fleming. Kedar had batted there only five times previously in the last two years and hasn’t batted there since. Kedar also cost them with a horrendous plodding effort in a tight chase against Kolkata.
Chennai have been on a go-slow in the first powerplay. In terms of boundary runs per over, they have averaged just 4.5 which is the worst rate of any franchise. They have accelerated like a Morris Minor up a gradient. In overs seven to ten, their rate has been 3, which is only superior to Royal Challengers Bangalore on 2.4. The uptick at the death has not materialised, either, with a middling 6.2 in the last four overs.
In Imran Tahir and Lungi Ngidi Chennai boasted probably the best spinner in the world and one of the most potent wicket-takers. Tahir has bowled just seven overs in two matches and Ngidi has played twice. The pacer was dropped after the Rajasthan defeat, despite claiming three wickets in the opening win over Mumbai. Sure, the overseas selection criteria made it tough to find room for both but they were criminally underused. Ngidi is also underrated by Sportsbook, who go a massive 4/1 about top bowler honours in their last game against Kings. He should be jolly at half the price.
Do India really have strength in depth?
Every IPL season some sage somewhere on social media will boast about India’s strength in depth in T20. No country can match them, they will argue. That might be true. Odd, though, that when it came to selecting a T20 team to take on Australia, the selectors picked a poorly balanced squad.
There is plenty wrong with the 16-man selection, although the chief takeaway is India’s lack of death hitters or finishers. Hardik Pandya, who has been superb for Mumbai Indians, will have to do it all on his own it seems. It highlights the fall from grace that Rishabh Pant has suffered. Once considered the next big thing, a moderate campaign with Delhi Capitals has seen him jettisoned. At this rate, India will bat either Ravi Jadeja or Washington Sundar at No 7.
The major beneficiaries of strong tournaments in the UAE appear to be Sanju Samson and Mayank Agarwal. Samson could well be asked to fill the finishing role alongside Hardik, although it is hard not to reckon the selectors have overstated his boundary hitting ability because of what he did on skinny boundaries in Sharjah. Agarwal is likely to warm the bench with KL Rahgul and Shikhar Dhawan the chosen openers.
Rohit Sharma’s hamstring injury ahs come at the right time. Rohit, who has often failed to convince in the format, may quietly concentrate on ODI and trying to make it as a Test player.
The big surprises are Manish Pandey and Mohammad Shami getting a spot on the plane. Pandey has done okay for Sunrisers but as often as he has batted well, he has slowed them down and put them in trouble. Surely it was time to elevate the fantastic Suryakumar Yadav from Mumbai?
Shami’s death bowling has been a disaster. And with Jasprit Bumrah expert at the death and Deepak Chahar likewise at the start, it is a wonder as to where he fits into the squad.
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