Locked at three titles apiece with the Mumbai Indians (MI) ahead of the IPL final last year, the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) went to battle carrying the expectations of their adoring fans to land the coveted crown for the fourth time. However, they finished on the losing side in a game that could have easily gone either way.
With Mumbai now ahead in the race for most IPL titles, the Super Kings will go into Season 13 not just in the hope of savouring that crowning moment yet again but also catching up with the Reliance Industries-owned franchise.
A ‘Dad’s Army’ though they may be, with most of their marquee names long retired from international cricket, the franchise led by MS Dhoni isn’t short on drive and motivation to leave their more youthful rivals trailing in the race for the title.
While age isn’t on their side, the Dhonis, Rainas and Watsons can draw from their vast reserves of cricketing experience to combine with the young guns in the common quest to drench in a confetti shower one more time.
Unlike some of their rival franchises, the CSK owners have retained their tried and tested support staff. Former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming stays the head coach, with former Aussie batting great Michael Hussey as the batting coach and former India pacer Lakshmipathy Balaji as the bowling coach.
The management, it appears, has put its faith in the old hands to land the jackpot yet again. Their senior pros, while in the wrong side of thirties, don’t shy away from throwing themselves around in the field, putting in a dive or running an extra yard to claim a catch. Age clearly hasn’t impaired their level of commitment and skill. While you can still bet on Raina to make a stunning diving stop and throw down the stumps before the batsmen reaches home, former South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir would still set off on a sprint like a spring chicken after bagging a wicket.
As for ‘Thala’ (King) Dhoni, their skipper, he is still the fittest around and will fancy himself against the fastest sprinter in the CSK or rival squads. Though now retired, his glovework could still rival the best in the business. In one word, he is ageless.
With the willow, the skipper was among the highest run-getters in the tournament last year, tallying 416 runs from 15 matches with 3 fifties.
While the CSK squad this IPL leans more on experience than youth, it is packed with proven performers and a bunch of super-charged youngsters, who though untested at this level, are ready and willing to take the cricketing world by storm with their skills.
Their batting would yet again rely on experienced campaigners such as Dhoni himself, Shane Watson, Francois (Faf) du Plessis, Ambati Rayudu, Murli Vijay and Kedar Jadhav. In Ruturaj Gaikwad, an accomplished willow-wielder from Maharashtra, they have another quality option in their batting reserves.
They can also lean on the all-round skills of Ravindra Jadeja, DJ Bravo and Shardul Thakur in the lower order should the going get tough with the bat.
In bowling, they have enough variety and experience in Lungi Ngidi, Deepak Chahar, Josh Hazlewood, Bravo, Thakur, Imran Tahir, Kiwi slow left-armer Mitchell Santner and Ravindra Jadeja.
The squad represents a neat cocktail of youth and experience, which can only serve them well in the quest for a fourth title. Dhoni, who had been in the throes of a frenzied debate on his form before eventually calling it quits, would want to show his detractors that he can still hit those cricketing ‘home runs’.
The hope in the CSK camp is that the oldsters will light up the IPL with their timeless and ageless skills, putting them on the glory road yet again.