By Vinay Kumar/New Delhi
At the IPL auctions, the Chennai Super Kings, after retaining the core of the team, were on the hunt for an opening pair. Apart from the openers’ hunt, new ball bowlers, with smart variations up their sleeves, were on the team management’s radar. In Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum, CSK put their opening worry to rest and found effective seam bowlers in Ashish Nehra, Mohit Sharma and Ishwar Pandey.
With the first leg of IPL held in the UAE, where the conditions were in slight favour of the bowlers, the bowlers had a better say than the batsmen. No matter how and for who the conditions were, Chennai were still the favourites and their new opening pair and the pace attack ensured that they were the team to beat in this year’s IPL, like the previous ones.
The MS Dhoni-led side did not leave it late and booked a play-off berth well before others with dominating performances in the UAE leg and the first half of the Indian leg.
Traditionally slow starters, Chennai surged up the points table with a six match winning streak, which ended only when the Kings XI, the only team Chennai failed to beat in IPL 7, beat them in Cuttack. Three losses in the last four league games shook them a bit but the two-time champions are best known for their ability to perform at the big stage, under pressure.
The men in yellow looked on course for their seventh consecutive play-off spot, the only team to do so in IPL. With 18 points from 14 matches, nine wins and five losses, Chennai finished number three in the points table. Chennai, in search for their third title, have a stable opening pair, a formidable middle-order and the fearsome finisher and leader in Dhoni. The bowling attack, with a lot of options in the spin department, lacks bite with the new ball.
With a balanced squad and star players forming the spine of the side, Chennai batsmen have accumulated runs and the bowlers have taken wickets. Three of their batsmen, Dwyane Smith (535), Brendon McCullum (380) and Suresh Raina (382), feature in the top ten run-scorers list, all three having the strike rates above 130. Upfront they get starts, and more importantly, they have never been bowled out this season. While chasing they have one of the most dreaded finishers of the game – Dhoni. Apart from the leadership qualities and never-say-die attitude that he has lend to Chennai for the last seven seasons, Dhoni’s ability to tear apart any bowling has turned the matches on their head. Dhoni, who has 329 runs this season with a strike-rate of over 150, has done that one many times for his team and this season has been no continued…