Indian T20 League 2020: Did Chennai miss a trick in build-up?
There's no questioning Chennai’s modus operandi in the Indian T20 League. Behind Mumbai, they are the most successful franchise in the league and most of that success has stemmed from retaining a core of their players through crests and troughs. After their ban for two seasons, Chennai came back in 2018 and little was expected of their side that had a lot of cricketers well past their prime.
Surprisingly, the MS Dhoni-led outfit outdid expectations and emerged champions in the 2018 season. In 2019, the 2018 win was still considered a bonus and even a play-off berth seemed good for them. Yet again, though, Chennai reached the finals and nearly won the title too as they tested Mumbai until the very last ball.
The 2020 edition is around the corner, and as the third-time beckons, Chennai might just be pushing their 'old men's army' a little too much. Their better players are all well past their prime and in the batting department at least, they seem to lack an impact player who can change games. Shane Watson and Dhoni seem well past that phase. With no Suresh Raina either, they appear well below their usual strength.
Last 2 seasons - WIN/LOSS record
2018 - 11 wins, 5 losses
2019 - 10 wins, 7 losses
Interestingly, Chennai have never missed out on the play-offs in any season they were part of. In eight out of 10 seasons they played, Chennai made it to the finals of the league, a remarkable achievement and also a pointer about how they manage to click despite having limited resources.
Narayan Jagadeesan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, KM Asif, Ravindra Jadeja, M Vijay, MS Dhoni, Josh Hazlewood, Kedar Jadhav, Karn Sharma, Piyush Chawla, Ambati Rayudu, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, Faf du Plessis, Shardul Thakur, Mitchell Santner, Dwayne Bravo, Lungi Ngidi, Sam Curran, Monu Kumar, Shane Watson, Sai Kishore.
Top run-scorers (last 2 seasons)
- Shane Watson - 953 runs
- Ambati Rayudu - 884 runs
- MS Dhoni - 871 runs
Top wicket-takers (last 2 seasons)
- Deepak Chahar - 32 wickets
- Imran Tahir - 32 wickets
- Ravindra Jadeja - 26 wickets
Chennai's strength remains their astute captain, MS Dhoni, and his ability to marshal his troops brilliantly. With an array of average cricketers up their sleeve, the former Indian captain has found ways to get the best out of them, also aided by the slow surfaces back home in Chepauk. In UAE, conditions won't be too different either. Quality spinners like Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja are joined by Piyush Chawla this season as Chennai focus on building on their strength. Even with Harbhajan Singh absent, Chennai are relatively strong in the spin department.
The slow conditions in UAE and the battery of spinners is complemented by the additions of Josh Hazlewood and Sam Curran in the auction. The two are there to step in when the matches are in Sharjah perhaps where wickets are flatter. Unlike before, fast bowling will be Chennai's strength this time given that Lungi Ngidi is also present in their ranks. Even if it's impossible to fit all of them in one team, Chennai have enough backup to change plans on the go.
Like with the last two seasons, a lot of Chennai's players are past their prime, particularly in the batting group. They have found ways to convert it into an advantage, but it perhaps touched the boiling point last season. That they did not shore up their batting much in the auction might cost them this time around.
While Chennai have found a way more often than not, the underlying feeling is that they might come short this time around, despite the tournament being staged entirely in conditions they will love. For the first time in the Indian T20 League, we might see them miss the playoffs.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Sajjad Hussain