The 2018 edition of the IPL is set to be a riveting affair with two heavyweight franchise in Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings making their way back into the fold after a two-year-long sabbatical.
That Chennai Super Kings is one of the most consistent franchises in the history of T20 cricket can be testified by multiple IPL and Champions League titles to go with a plethora of appearances in the Finals of a marquee event. Two reasons explain Chennai Super Kings success over the years in T20 cricket, firstly the presence of a strong core in Bravo, Raina, du Plessis who can win games for their team from any situation and secondly the franchise has been blessed with a leader in MS Dhoni whose pristine game sense and penchant for out-of-the-box thinking transformed the unit into world-beaters.
The Super Kings return to the 2018 season with a mixture of the tried and tested core along with some fresh faces that they acquired in the auctions prior to the tournament. While the team still looks competitive, there exist some chinks in their armor that may hinder their aspirations of lifting the coveted title for the third time.
Captain: MS Dhoni
Coach: Stephen Fleming
MS Dhoni (C & WK), Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Faf du Plessis, Harbhajan Singh, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Kedar Jhadhav, Ambati Rayudu, Imran Tahir, Karn Sharma, Shardul Thakur, N. Jagadeesan, Mitchell Santner, Deepak Chahar, KM Asif, Kanishk Seth, Lungisani Ngidi, Dhruv Shorey, Murali Vijay, Sam Billings, Mark Wood, Kshitiz Sharma, Monu Kumar, Chaitanya Bishnoi.
Let us now analyze the strengths and weaknesses of CSK
#1 A mixture of experience and shenanigans at the top
CSK has always been blessed with an astounding batting line-up at the helm of which, is Suresh Raina. One of the most prolific run-scorer and also the highest run-getter in IPL history, Raina has accumulated 4540 runs at a strike rate of 139.05 across ten seasons.
Raina would be joined by Murali Vijay and Shane Watson at the top order. Vijay, who returns to CSK after a hiatus missed the last season due to injury (but accumulated 450 runs in 14 matches for the Kings XI Punjab in 2016) while Shane Watson would be looking to make amends after an indifferent IPL season last year that saw him make 70 runs and pick just five wickets for RCB.
While Watson and Vijay will start as openers, English opener Sam Billings can be slated as a backup in case either of Watson and Vijay hit a rough patch.In terms of uncapped players, Delhi batsman Dhruv Shorey would be another player to watch out for. Shorey who averages over 55 in 18 First Class matches, sho into the limelight when he scored a pristine hundred in Ranji Trophy Finals 2017/18 against the eventual champions Vidharba.
#2 A plethora of experience in the spin-department
It almost compliments MS Dhoni’s style of captaincy that the CSK team management has gone on with multiple spin bowling options. CSK has racked up Imran Tahir (47 wickets in 32 IPL matches), who has been pretty successful in the IPL and would certainly be an asset for the team.
#3 World Class All-Rounders
While their fast bowling stocks may be thin on experience, CSK would like to bridge that gap with the help of two of the best all-rounders in white ball cricket- Dwayne Bravo and Shane Watson. Bravo has been one of the stalwarts for the CSK over the years with his immaculate bowling and power-hitting blitz down the order.
In a glittering IPL career thus far, Bravo has amassed 1238 runs along with 122 wickets and the franchise would be hoping that the West Indian weaves his magic yet again at the Chepauk this season. Watson, in his prime, used to bat and bowl with equal efficiency and if Watson the all-rounder clicks, a major chunk of CSK’s problem will be neutralized.
Another all-rounder that has been part of successful Chennai set-up is Ravindra Jadeja. Though Jadeja hasn’t been in the best of bowling form, his batting form has been quite good in the recently concluded domestic tournaments and his blitz down the order might just make things a lot easier for the two-time champions.
#1 Lack of experienced fast bowlers
While the Super Kings has loaded their squad with quality spinners Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja and Karn Sharma, it is the pedigree of their fast bowling reserves that could turn out their Achilles heel.
With Shardul Thakur, the only bowler to have some experience of playing in the shortest format of the game, foreign recruit Lungisani Ngidi, having just played 3 T20I thus far, will be making his IPL debut and another rookie in Mark Wood. Uncapped bowler Deepak Chahar will be expected to lead the attack after having a fruitful Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy where he claimed 19 wickets in 9 matches, but the lack of experienced Indian or overseas bowler might come to haunt them during the business stage of the tournament.
#2 Over-reliance on spin
Tha MS Dhoni loves captaining to the spinners is a fact well known. Dhoni is a master tactician when it comes to setting fields for the slippers and has a pristine game sense to second guess as to what the batsman is thinking. It is perhaps this tenet that CSK had followed while selecting their squad for the upcoming season.
While the spinners at their disposal are proven match-winners with too many of them presenting their case to be in the first choice XI, it may seriously hamper the balance of the side especially with just two specialist overseas fast bowlers in Mark Wood and Lungisani Ngidi.
Over-reliance on spinners may come to haunt CSK, especially in away games on small grounds like the Wankhede or the Chinnaswamy.
#3 Lack of young talent in the side
CSK squad for the year 2018 is loaded with seasoned campaigners in Watson, Bravo, du Plessis in their ranks. 10 out of the 25 players in the squad are well over the age of 30, and with Watson, Harbhajan, and Bravo, all non-active in the international circuit currently, the April heat will severely test their fitness as the tournament wears on.
Moreover, the lack of young prodigy gives a sense of predictability to their squad.
Probable XI: Murali Vijay, Shane Watson, Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (C & WK), Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Imran Tahir, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar