Three-time Indian T20 League champions Chennai, who finished seventh last year, have started their rebuild by retaining veteran Suresh Raina for the upcoming season and releasing spinner Harbhajan Singh.

The former Indian spinner took to social media to thank the team management by saying, "As my contract comes to an end with Chennai, playing for this team was a great experience. Beautiful memories made and some great friends which I will remember fondly for years to come."

Chennai's decision to retain Raina was a surprise for many after his shocking departure from the team camp in Dubai last year. Raina had left the Chennai bubble even before the tournament kicked off, sending shockwaves amongst the management and the fans alike. The all-rounder boarded a flight out of the UAE to return to India, citing nothing but personal reasons for his departure.

One of team Chennai's officials, however, has confirmed that despite the previous disagreement, Raina - who is Chennai's most successful batsman with 4,527 runs - will be retained.  

“Yes, we will retain Raina and Dhoni will be the captain. Apart from Harbhajan Singh, we might release a few more players,” the CSK official told The Indian Express.

"Harbhajan has been released as you are aware and Watson has retired. Apart from that, don't see any big name missing out. Bravo and du Plessis will be with us," a Chennai spokesperson was quoted by ANI.

The other players to be released by Chennai are Piyush Chawla, Kedar Jadhav and Murali Vijay. Chawla was the most expensive Indian player at the 2020 auction (6.75 crores), but the spinner picked a mere six wickets in seven games. Jadhav and Vijay scored 62 (five games) and 32 (three games) runs, respectively.

Releasing as many as four players and the retirement of Shane Watson means the team now has 22.7 crores in their purse ahead of the Indian T20 League 2021 auction.

Released: Kedar Jadhav, Piyush Chawla, Murali Vijay, Harbhajan Singh, Shane Watson, Monu Singh

Retained: Narayan Jagadeesan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, KM Asif, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni, Josh Hazlewood, Karn Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, Faf du Plessis, Shardul Thakur, Mitchell Santner, Dwayne Bravo, Lungi Ngidi, Sam Curran, Sai Kishore

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Sajjad Hussain