As Matheesha Pathirana delivered a yorker that was a little too wide in the final over of their last league game, against Rajasthan Royals on May 20, 2022, Chennai Super Kings’s tumultuous campaign came to a sorry end. Despite being 94/3 after the first 10 overs, Chennai scraped their way only to score 150 batting first. Their poor death batting seemed to be a trend that has hurt them throughout the tournament. However, this was just one of the many issues that plagued the MS Dhoni-led franchise this season. Several changes may be needed if CSK is to return to the top, and we want to explore the problems, solutions, and methods for Chennai to turn this around. 

Chennai’s auction performance was very ordinary, which was reflected in this season, but there are still ways for them to find value ahead of the following year. At the end of the mega auction, they were left with 2.95 crores. However, Chennai can improve its purse value by releasing a few overpaid players. The release candidates would include Ambati Rayudu, who could free up 6.75 crores; Chris Jordan, who could free up 3.6 crores; and maybe Adam Milne, who could free up an additional 1.9 crore. In addition to this, Chennai would also get the yearly elevation of 5 crores, giving them around 17-18 crores to add key players to the team. 

Taking a look at the ideal playing 11 for Chennai, it goes something like this: Devon Conway*, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Moeen Ali*, Shivam Dube, Player X, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni, Deepak Chahar, Mukesh Choudhary, Maheesh Theekshana*, Matheesha Pathirana*/Overseas Pacer

One of the key missing elements to their team, identified as Player X, is an Indian right-hander in the middle order. CSK’s middle order was packed with left-handers like Shivam Dube, Moeen Ali, and Ravindra Jadeja this year. The impact of this missing piece is witnessed when Chennai plays right arm off-break bowlers, who are a lot easier to handle for right-hand batters. Only Royal Challengers Bangalore have a lower average facing off-break bowlers, and only the Delhi Capitals have yielded more wickets to off-spin than the Chennai Super Kings (Table 1). With off-break typically being introduced in the middle overs, a strong Indian right-handed option is necessary. 

Table 1: IPL teams Average vs Right Arm Off-Spin (Match No.1-No.70)

TeamAverage vs Right Arm Off-Spin
Sunrisers Hyderabad66.50
Kolkata Knight Riders52.00
Gujarat Titans42.29
Lucknow Supergiants41.33
Mumbai Indians38.14
Rajasthan Royals37.57
Punjab Kings24.67
Delhi Capitals22.53
Chennai Super Kings22.18
Royal Challengers Bangalore18.18

The first option is to look at potential players in the mini-auction. Delhi’s obsession with Lalit Yadav’s all-round value meant that Sarfaraz Khan only played 5 games during the tournament. In those 5 games, he played a couple of great innings and could be a trade or mini-auction option for CSK. Another option could be to trade for a high-cost player who did not perform as expected. One name with a domestic connection is Shahrukh Khan. Chennai lost out on a bidding war for him in the mega auction, as he was sold for a mammoth 9 crores to Punjab Kings.

However, Punjab has not been able to utilise him in the way they would have wanted. With a batting order that comprises Jonny Bairstow, Mayank Agarwal, Shikhar Dhawan, Rajapaksa, Livingstone, and the impressive Jitesh Sharma, it was hard for Shahrukh Khan to make his desired impact as he was moved up and down the order without a clear role. Punjab would also want to cut their losses and not pay 9 crores to Sharukh Khan for another season as they look to plug holes in their side. This may pave the way for a trade or an entry into the mini-auction, which is an opportunity Chennai has to take. Shahrukh Khan has played at no. 5 in the past for Tamil Nadu at the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy and can also be shuffled down the order based on the situation. He would also tremendously help Chennai’s death overs finishing.

Finally, there is also the option of making a blockbuster move for Kieron Pollard if Mumbai release him. With Chennai’s love for older, experienced players, this could potentially be a match made in heaven for Chennai fans and a nightmarish scenario for Mumbai fans. 

The scope for improvement does not just end with new players but also with the management of the current squad. For starters, dropping Devon Conway after just one game was as inexplicable as Mumbai benching Tim David due to a couple of early-season failures. Conway ended with the highest average at 42 and the second-highest strike rate at 145 in the entire team despite only playing half the games.

Chennai has always been an overseas opener reliant team, with Matthew Hayden, Mike Hussey, Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum, Faf Du Plessis, and Shane Watson all playing big roles. Conway could be a similar type of player and provide Chennai with the strong starts they have traditionally been accustomed to. With Conway and Gaikwad emerging as a strong opening pair, keeping them together for an entire season could help Chennai immensely. 

A player who started strong but found himself faltering soon after due to movement along the batting order was Shivam Dube. The potential is there for him to solidify himself at the No.4 spot where he plays his best cricket. Releasing Rayudu and Uthappa could allow Chennai to accommodate Dube in his most suitable role and maximise their batting ability. The numbers also demonstrate the magnitude of the difference this could make. This season, while batting at No.4 or higher, Dube averaged an incredible 61.3 at a strike rate of 180.4 in 4 innings. On the other hand, while batting lower than No. 4, he averaged a lowly 15 at a strike rate of 126.5 in 7 innings. Chennai needs to make room for him and let him bat at his favoured position. 

These two changes in the batting order will be helped by Ravindra Jadeja returning to form. A player of Jadeja’s quality can’t have a worse campaign than the one he just had. Captaincy clearly played on his mind, as he equalled his worst wickets return ever while tallying his worst batting average since 2018. Jadeja is a much-improved batter, and the last two seasons – both at the IPL and the international level – are proof of that. His return to form is only a matter of time, which will also help Chennai.

There were several positives to take from the current season as well. Maheesh Theekshana’s emergence as a leading spinner could make him a significant long-term asset, especially if Chennai can play at Chepauk next season. Furthermore, the return of Deepak Chahar will help Chennai’s powerplay bowling and increase their batting depth. In his absence, Mukesh Choudhary emerged as a genuine powerplay threat, giving Chennai two solid options for next season in the powerplay. 

They also need to keep the age of their squad in mind moving forward. Both Dhoni and Bravo are getting older, and their skills are waning. With no other leadership contender in place, Chennai may need to find their next captain and next big overseas pace all-rounder. On the other end of the spectrum, young talents like Hangargekar and Pathirana must be managed effectively. They are still raw and need to be given chances at the right time for them to develop well. 

Pathirana, particularly, cannot be considered a reliable option just yet due to many factors:

  1. At only 19 years of age, his experience is limited, and inconsistency will be expected in his bowling.
  2. His unorthodox action, while nostalgic, may not serve his arm and body well in the long run.
  3. This action exposes him to the possibility of injuries that may also affect Chennai from an availability perspective.

Hence, Chennai may still look at other overseas senior pace bowling options that can come off the bench and do the job when required. Options could include trading for lesser-used players like Andrew Tye/Mustafizur Rahman, whose variations and vast IPL experience would work wonders on the slow Chepauk pitch, or buying back Lungi Ngidi/Sam Curran.

New pieces need to be added, and existing pieces need to be shuffled around, but this Chennai side has potential. If they make the right moves to address their weaknesses, a 2021-like renaissance might be on the cards.

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