The CricViz season preview of Chennai Super Kings.
CSK are renowned for having a superb spin attack and this year is no different. Despite the withdrawal of Harbhajan Singh—which sees them lose their only frontline off spinner—Chennai still have one of the best and most varied spin attacks in the league. Perhaps only the Delhi Capitals can rival them. Chennai have as many as six frontline spin options with three left-arm spinners: Ravi Jadeja, Sai Kishore and Mitchell Santner and three leg spinners; Imran Tahir, Piyush Chawla and Karn Sharma. This arsenal of spin bowlers was compiled with their home venue in Chepauk in mind which has historically been very favourable to spin bowlers, but the move to the UAE where spin is expected to play a big role, also suits the Super Kings spinners as well. Chennai’s spinners are particularly well-suited to exploiting right-hander heavy teams with all six bowlers spinning the ball from right to left. They are also nicely covered in terms of phases with all of them except Jadeja and Karn relatively regular bowlers in the Powerplay and Tahir an increasingly effective operator in the death overs. Although they only have two of the four spin bowling types covered they have good variation within these types with Tahir a new-age, flat, fast and into the pitch bowler; Karn a slower, more classical bounce leg spinner and Chawla a blend of the two.
An extension of Chennai’s spin strength is their Powerplay bowling. The four spinners capable of bowling in the phase are joined by three Powerplay specialists in Deepak Chahar—one of the world’s pre-eminent new ball bowlers who took 25 wickets in the Powerplay in the last two seasons, Josh Hazlewood—a classical new ball seam and line bowler and Sam Curran—a left-arm Powerplay swing option. Lungi Ngidi is also a useful Powerplay operator as well but will likely bowl at the death as well. Of course, these bowlers cannot all play together but it gives Chennai a multitude of options in the first six overs. Given Jadeja’s bowls rarely in the Powerplay the acquisition of Kishore is relevant because it gives them a domestic left arm spinner who is happy bowling in the Powerplay something they’d otherwise only get from Santner which would occupy an overseas spot.
Mocked two years ago as being ‘Dad’s Army’ due to the age of their squad Chennai still have the majority of the players from that victorious campaign and continue to be a squad boasting huge experience. CSK have eight players over the age of 34: MS Dhoni (38), Dwayne Bravo (36), Faf du Plessis (35), Imran Tahir (40), Kedar Jadhav (34), Ambati Rayudu (34), Murali Vijay (35) and Shane Watson (38). Of course, this could be seen as being a reflection of a squad that is past their best – and at some point that will be the case, but across the last two seasons Chennai’s experience has helped them reach the final on both occasions. Given the unusual nature of this year’s tournament and the pressures involved in bio-secure life, the fact that so many of their players have been playing at this level for well over a decade is something that should work in their favour.
The move to the UAE
The move to the UAE benefits Chennai. Their squad was build with their home venue, Chepauk, in mind – a ground that is renowned for slow, low pitches and scrappy cricket. This is exactly the type of cricket that we are likely to see in Dubai and Abu Dhabi where the large majority of the tournament is being played. It suits Chennai’s spin attack, slower ball quicks and stabilising batting order.
Raina and Harbhajan’s withdrawals
The absence of Raina and Harbhajan—both of whom have withdrawn from the squad—is a huge blow to Chennai. Not only do they lose two players with vast experience but they lose two players fulfilling roles for which they have no cover. Raina was Chennai’s only likely starting left-handed batsman and Harbhajan was their only frontline off spinner. Their absence leaves them less able to play to match-ups effectively and sees two players of great quality and experience leave the squad.
Chennai’s batting order appears to lack explosiveness with a lot of responsibility on Watson and Dhoni to rediscover past glories. The absence of Raina robs the Super Kings of a dynamic middle order player and the rest of Chennai’s batting is largely defined by their good wicket preservation and strike rotation. This is likely to be less of an issue in the lower scoring matches in the UAE but they may be exposed in higher scoring matches.
Indian pace bowling depth
Deepak is an international bowler and a superb operator, particularly in the Powerplay,but after him Chennai’s domestic pace bowling is notably weak with Shardul Thakur the most likely second seamer and KM Asif and Monu Singh in reserve. Thakur has played four IPL seasons and has only once recorded a positive average bowling impact: in 2018.
Although we have cited Chennai’s experience as a strength is can also be seen as a weakness. Many of the players in their squad are past their peak and at some point their returns are going to seriously diminish. The same thing has been noted ahead of the last two seasons and on neither occasion has it proved to be the case but one year it will happen. Chennai have just got to hope that it doesn’t happen en masse and they can get enough performances from their younger players to cover the decline of their older squad members.
Dhoni is Chennai’s only frontline wicket-keeper with Narayan Jagadeeshan the only back-up option in the squad. If Dhoni is to get injured then CSK will be forced to play Jagadeeshan whose T20 record is underwhelming with a strike rate of 112 from 20 innings
Chennai’s bowling is largely excellent but their death bowling is a potential area of concern. Chahar, Hazlewood and Curran are all best suited to the Powerplay and Tahir is the only spinner capable of operating at the death regularly. That leaves a lot of responsibility on death specialist Dwayne Bravo whose form has been declining of late and Ngidi.
Shortage of left-handers
The absence of Raina means Chennai have no left-handed batsmen in their squad. Jadeja, Curran and Santner are left-handed all rounders and Chennai may have to deploy them creatively to avoid being bombed by left-arm spin and leg spin.
- Ruturaj Gaikwad (RH)
- Shane Watson (RH)
- Ambati Rayudu (RH)
- MS Dhoni (RH & WK)
- Kedar Jadhav (RH & OB)
- Dwayne Bravo (RH & RMF)
- Ravi Jadeja (LH & SLA)
- Deepak Chahar (RH & RFM)
- Piyush Chawla (LS)
- Imran Tahir (LS)
- Lungi Ngidi (RF)
Of Chennai’s overseas players Tahir and Watson are likely to start but they could be joined by any of their remaining six options. Historically Chennai like to pick two overseas batsmen which gives du Plessis a good chance of playing – this strategy has been made more likely by Raina’s absence leaving the top order a little light. Chennai generally back the players who have performed for them over a number of years which gives Bravo a good chance of playing too. Chennai are likely to need Ngidi’s death bowling too though while Curran could provide a pinch-hitting option. Chennai have a lot of bases covered with their overseas players which is a good thing but they’ll need to deploy them smartly to get the best out of them.
Does Gaikwad play?
One solution to Chennai’s shortage of explosiveness is to pick the domestic batsman Ruturaj Gaikwad who is coming off the back of a superb season in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Picking Gaikwad could enable CSK to only pick one overseas batsman and give them far more options around strengthening their bowling attack with it becoming possible for Tahir, Bravo and Ngidi to all play together.
Which spinners play?
Chennai also have a decision to make over which spinners to pick. Tahir and Jadeja are likely to start leaving Karn, Chawla and Kishore as domestic options and Santner as an overseas choice.