“Well, it does hurt,” a dejected MS Dhoni told in the post-match presentation after Chennai Super Kings’ humbling defeat against Mumbai Indians. It was their eighth defeat in 11 games. The season which started off with so much promise has just been on a downward spiral.
They’ve played 10 seasons prior to this and they made it to the playoffs every time. In fact, out of those they were in eight finals and they ended up lifting the title three times as well. Before this 2020 season started, the three-time champions had a win percentage of 60.61%, the best ever in the history of the league.
Yes, everybody knows these numbers but it’s just reflecting on how good CSK have been since the inception of the IPL. Perhaps, Mumbai Indians are the only team that has matched them or emulated them considering they’ve won four titles.
You just couldn’t count CSK out ever before in the IPL. Somehow, someone would pull their weight and take CSK through. You write them off and they’d come back stronger. Look at what happened in 2018 and 2019. People just didn’t give them a chance as everybody thought they were ‘too old’ to make a case for themselves. They defied the odds to get back up and win in 2018 and finish as runners-up in 2019 (and that too by the barest of margins).
And this year, it’s been a stark contrast to the past. You never think of Chennai throwing in the towel too early but that’s happened this time. When was the last time you saw MS Dhoni’s shoulders droop into submission or has that ever happened?
CSK have barely lost games in clusters and 2014 was the last time they lost three games in a row. This year, it’s happened twice already. They lost consecutive games while chasing only once before and that was in 2008. This season, they’ve had a couple of runs like that already (once three games in a row and once two games in a row).
It’s been a season of multiple firsts (in a negative sense) for CSK in 2020. You think of Chennai Super Kings and you think playoffs. It’s just been inevitable over the years. Well, for the first time in the history of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Chennai Super Kings (CSK) will not be making it to the top four.
And to be fair, they never looked like making it either. Post the tournament opener against Mumbai, there has hardly been any intent on the field. Be it with the bat, ball, or even in the field. CSK just seem to be carrying a lot of baggage and just haven’t moved at the speed and pace required to.
Chasing big targets, CSK were never really in the game. There was no sense of urgency from that middle-order who just kept nagging around before getting some consolation hits away which reduced the margin of defeat. And that wasn’t the case in one or two games, for the most part of the season.
The three-time champions didn’t get to bat first in their first seven games of this season. However, even when they batted first in the last four games, there was nothing to take away. It was the same old misery that piled on. With the ball, there has been very little zip in the attack. They lacked that killer instinct with the ball and the players who could do that were on the bench.
Dhoni spoke about youngsters not showing enough spark so that CSK could bench the senior and experienced cricketers. However, there was barely any spark in the ones who played in the XI and got opportunities.
CSK have just one name (Faf du Plessis – 376 runs) in the top 10 run-getters and none in the top 10 wicket-takers. du Plessis and Sam Curran are the only ones who have shown some spark.
That Curran recently managed a lone vigil against Mumbai Indians- courtesy of his 52 of 47 (on a day where his team made just 114) gave his team some ray of hope in a season where they’ve largely been hopeless.
Moreover, explains why Chennai- a team trolled often for consisting of ageing cricketers- have a new youthful spark.
There have been some talks around how CSK picked a side for largely playing in Chennai where the tracks are spin-friendly and the MS Dhoni-led side dominates. Moreover, two top Indian cricketers Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh pulled out to plug a hole. Things may have been different if the IPL may not have moved to the UAE. Well, maybe.
But just take a look at some of the players that CSK were carrying and would it have really made such a big difference?
MS Dhoni hadn’t been on a cricket field since July 2019. Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh were not even close to playing a competitive game since the conclusion of the 2019 IPL season. Shane Watson barely plays two T20 leagues in a year. Murali Vijay is by no means a T20 player and his flamboyance was lost long ago. Ambati Rayudu announced his retirement and then took a sudden U-turn.
And their on-field tactics this season were even more baffling. Shane Watson did produce a couple of good knocks. But there is no way he should’ve been backed for 10 games. Yes, he did deliver in the final last season but you can’t keep carrying baggage in hope that one day that player will end his rut. Watson’s inclusion kept out the youngsters like Ruturaj Gaikwad and N Jagadeesan and whenever they were included, they batted way out of position.
Also, what that did was keep Imran Tahir, last year’s Purple Cap winner on the bench for 10 games. And even though CSK lacked that cutting edge in the bowling attack, Tahir was not even considered. Dwayne Bravo is well past his prime. He is pretty injury-prone these days and he may pick wickets in a few games but he shouldn’t have really commanded a place in the XI straight away when he was fit.
CSK needed that fast bowler who could force the pace and Bravo’s inclusion denied them that. Moreover, even though the likes of Piyush Chawla and Karn Sharma have struggled with consistency, the likes of R Sai Kishore who was impressive in the 2019-20 Indian domestic season have come nowhere close to being picked in the XI.
Teams were giving youngsters a go and backing them to come good. They were opted to play two overseas fast bowlers and attack with the ball. They went hard at the top. And these are the things CSK did not do.
When teams adapting and changing according to the conditions and the trend, CSK were busy sticking to their old and rigid methodologies. They didn’t even try doing that adapting and when they did to a small extent, it was already too late. It was like an autorickshaw driving on a highway when the others have sped past them on their bikes and cars.
And moreover, in the last few games, it seems like CSK have just given up. There is no sense of fighting it out or giving it a try at least to force something out of it. That has been one of the most disappointing things. It’s not that CSK have lost eight games and things like that. Yes, bad times come for everybody and things don’t go your way. However, it is the way that they’ve lost and again, the intent that they’ve shown on the field that has been substandard.
Well, this season is all but over for CSK and all they can hope for is to win the remaining few games and get off the last spot. There is absolutely no doubt that a big reset button will be present and the entire team will definitely be overhauled with a massive reconstruction in store.
There are speculations that the CSK skipper might bid adieu after this season as well. Hence, it may well be safe to say, it is the end of an era and a big empire that a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni built (in the company of Stephen Fleming) and lorded over it superbly.
It was an era of great consistency where CSK touched the greatest of heights and that may have well come to a crashing end.
If that’s not sad for pure fans, then what is, you wonder?