The Chennai hierarchy couldn't have asked for a better comeback following their return to the Indian T20 League circuit last year. Showing absolute resilience and sheer quality, the Lions started their 2018 campaign exactly where they had left in 2015.
Becoming only the second team to win three titles, Chennai has had their limitations last year, but the way they handled their shortcomings and surged from a rather poor start takes a beating. The aim, this time around, though, will be to retain the trophy and become only the second team to win back-to-back titles, matching their own record from 2010 and 2011.
As far as the auction goes, those sitting at the Chennai desk in Jaipur back in December 2018 decided not to burden their fellow franchisees, as only two new players were bought, while the likes of Mark Wood, Kanishk Seth and Kshitiz Sharma were released.
This Chennai team comprises of worthy match-winners, though, there remain a few foibles that might hinder their defending campaign and here we are investigating those traits.
The reason for not bulging heavily into the auction was the retention of their key members like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Imran Tahir and Lungi Ngidi to name a few, which brings them straight into the bracket of being 'favourites'.
Their batting line-up has always been their key and this season will be no different. Talking numbers, there are as many as eight different players who have scored 1000+ runs in the competition, while the fact remains that even their back-up is decent as well.
Furthermore, in Ravindra Jadeja, Shane Watson and Dwayne Bravo, the team has three quality all-rounders; and on their day, these names can well and truly turn the tide single-handedly.
Punit Paranjpe / AFP
Another trait working in their favor remains the plethora of options they have in the spinning department. The likes of Harbhajan Singh, Imran Tahir, Mitchell Santner and Kedar Jadhav are experienced campaigners and are those who not many batsmen would want to face.
Another important aspect of this unit is the abundance of natural leaders. It is safe to say MS Dhoni drives the team, but if anything were to happen to him, the likes of Faf, Watson, Bravo and even Raina – who all have captained in the tournament before – can step up.
The average age of this Chennai team is 29.7 and most of their starters are above 30, playing either in their prime or past it, while 5 players out of their 25-member squad have never played in the competition. So there remains a distress of whether the squad will tick this time around.
Above all, many of their veterans haven't played on the international circuit for a long time, leaving behind a massive shadow of doubt ahead of the tournament. And those who have kept themselves occupied – baring Shane Watson – have struggled to register decent numbers.
Even Ambati Rayudu, who was arguably their best batsman last season, has failed to get decent numbers in given opportunity. In his last seven innings, the 33-year-old has failed to cross the 30-run mark even once.
Furthermore, if we are to pick one talking point from their auction, then it has to be their overreliance on spinners and lack of focus on pace bowling strength. Following Mark Wood’s release, the yellow brigade are devoid of options in pace bowling. Someone of Lungi Ngidi's stature is sure to provide the power but the only other viable option they have is Shardul Thakur; which leaves them extremely vulnerable on pace-friendly wickets if one of them goes out of form. Some might pop Deepak Chahar's name, but the 26-year-old still remains a rookie at the circuit. Not to forget that their 5 crore buy, Mohit Sharma's last competitive game came back in November 2018.
And the bitter truth; the extreme inconsistency of MS Dhoni. Though his rich experience and leadership make him stand apart from the rest, the fact remains that he has lost his Midas touch. And if anything was to happen to him, Chennai will be left without a wicketkeeper.
The X-factor: Mohit Sharma
Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
Regardless of the lack of opportunities of late, right-arm pacer Mohit Sharma has always repaid the trust shown in him by the Chennai franchise. Picking 20 wickets in his debut campaign (2013), the bowler sustained his brilliant form the following season, scalping 23 wickets in 16 games, becoming the campaign's purple-cap holder in 2014.
"I cannot explain in words what it feels like going back to Chennai," said an emotional Sharma after being picked by the team – for Indian T20 League 2019 - he had made his debut with.
Though his KXIP tenure didnt go as he would have wished, the optimism he carries while donning the yellow shirt might help him getting back on track.
Baring a couple of new names, Chennai have a same squad more of the same. And although a concern with regards to the pace attack is still there, their aggressive batting line-up coupled with their ability of getting good results under pressure can make up for it.
Take last season for instance; they had such a poor start but eventually covered the ground and got their name amongst the very best. For us – regardless of the mentioned shortcomings – Chennai is a perfectly poised unit and are well and truly capable of winning a record fourth Indian T20 League title.