Monday, June 24, 2024

Playing at home again will have Super Kings raring to return to its pre-eminent position 

All set: Dhoni will look to kickstart CSK’s campaign in style.

All set: Dhoni will look to kickstart CSK’s campaign in style.
| Photo Credit: R. RAGU

From 2008 to 2019, Chennai Super Kings was synonymous with consistency in the IPL. It was the only team which had qualified for all the playoffs in that period (it didn’t figure in the competition in 2016 & 17), winning three titles. But over the last three years, the side has had a topsy-turvy performance curve, finishing in the penultimate spot in 2020 and 2022, and clinching the title in 2021.

All that wouldn’t matter when M.S. Dhoni leads the Super Kings out at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on April 3. With the fans waiting for this moment for the past three years, it could well be one of the defining images of the season.

At the 2022 mega auction, CSK prioritised building a team with experience and assembled a squad suited for the spin-friendly conditions in Chepauk. It did not sign a quality Indian pacer except Deepak Chahar. Once he was ruled out of the tournament last year, CSK was left with an ineffective bowling attack as it was forced to rely on uncapped Indians. With Chahar back, Dhoni’s men will hope that their ₹14-crore signing delivers.

Another reason for the disappointing campaign in 2022 was the poor run of the Indian cream of Ravindra Jadeja, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ambati Rayudu. A lot will depend on the trio, apart from Dhoni and all-rounder Shivam Dube, to power the batting unit.

On the overseas front, the four-time champion has opener Devon Conway, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes to lend firepower. In Stokes, CSK might have also found a future leader. However, it should be wary of its line-up becoming left-hander heavy and getting exposed to off-spin.

Most lethal weapon

The most lethal weapon for Super Kings is the Chepauk pitch. The Yellow Army has always maximised its home advantage on the surface aiding the tweakers, winning 40 of its 56 matches (71%) — the best for any team.

Last year, Maheesh Theekshana was the standout performer and the Sri Lankan spinner should relish bowling alongside Jadeja at the MAC Stadium.

With Dwayne Bravo hanging up his boots, CSK needs someone to bowl effectively at the back end. Fortunately, it was able to sign South African speedster Sisanda Magala, known for his death-bowling skills, as an injury replacement for Kiwi Kyle Jamieson. The challenge would be to accommodate him as the fourth foreign player. Super Kings will also expect at least one of the Indian quicks to step up.

This season could be the most important for the Men in Yellow as speculation is rife that it could be the final one for Dhoni, who has revealed that he wants to play his last game in Chennai.

If 2023 is Dhoni’s last dance, bringing the IPL trophy back to his second home would be the most fitting way to end a glorious career.

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