They have played nine editions of the IPL, and reached the final on seven occasions. They have never failed to make the top four in every season they’ve played. They won their third title last season, making them the most successful franchise alongside the Mumbai Indians. Their star players are either approaching the dreaded age of 35 or have crossed it, and terms like “past their prime” and “veteran” are used to describe them. And yet, they were the highest collective run scorers in the group stage last season. They are the Chennai Super Kings and they have defined the IPL for most of its existence.
A casual glance at the 25-man squad is enough to give you the impression that CSK are favourites to win the title this year too. There are elite cricketers and when the need arises, they can be replaced by more elite cricketers. Captain MS Dhoni, IPL’s highest run scorer Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu and Faf du Plessis are names that we can expect to see on a frequent basis. Kedar Jadhav is expected to be a part of the Indian World Cup squad and could see his game time being managed.
— Chennai Super Kings (@ChennaiIPL) 17 March 2019
Du Plessis did not play too many games last season but CSK struck gold when they allowed him to open the batting with Watson. This could be the combination that CSK use for the majority of this season unless one of these two have to make way for an overseas player to be fitted into the bowling department.
If they have to look past these frontliners, CSK have a wealth of batting talent to dig into. England’s Sam Billings did not get too many outings last season but impressed with his match-winning 56 off 23 balls against Kolkata Knight Riders in a group-stage match. David Willey is another big hitting option that they have in their ranks. Ravindra Jadeja can swing the bat and Mitchell Santner also provides an extra option whenever he is played. And considering we are talking about Dhoni, who famously threw the ball to Joginder Sharma in the final over of the inaugural 2007 World T20 final, CSK opt for Murali Vijay at the top of the order and leave the soothsayers with their mouths hanging.
Getting the right combination of bowlers will be a bit of a task for CSK. They have the likes of Imran Tahir and Mitchell Santner in their ranks but picking either of these players means having to do away with either Du Plessis or Watson. Lungi Ngidi could find a spot consistently alongside Deepak Chahar. Dhoni could also be hoping that Ngidi proves to be a good option in the death overs, considering Bravo’s waning powers in that department. Other Indian spin options include Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh and Karn Sharma.
A team batting against CSK has to constantly guess what they will be face. Apart from the frontline bowlers, Dhoni also could throw the ball to all-rounders Shane Watson and Kedar Jadhav. The limit on foreign players prevents CSK from going all out in the bowling department, but they remain unpredictable, something that Dhoni loves to capitalise on.
— Chennai Super Kings (@ChennaiIPL) 17 March 2019
Their batsmen went to town last season, smashing 2488 runs in the group stage, which was the highest among the eight teams. One can expect the same this season – Watson was on fire in the Big Bash League and the Pakistan Super League, while Du Plessis has hit a purple patch of late for South Africa in all formats. Dhoni has had an incredible 2019 and so has Jadhav. Ambati Rayudu may have been inconsistent in the Indian colours, and Suresh Raina has largely been missing from top-level cricket, but both players usually come good in the IPL.
Dwayne Bravo’s reputation as being the king of the death overs took a major hit last season, and it hasn’t improved much since then. CSK’s loaded bowling lineup could prove to be a double-edged sword in that sense. While the opposition will have little information on what they will be facing on the day, it could backfire if CSK doesn’t get their combination right.
Their star players may be defying their age with the kind of form they are exhibiting, but given their age there is always a risk of injury. Jadhav, in particular, will have to sit out a few matches given his tendency to pick up niggles and the fact that he is expected to play a role for India in the World Cup.
Why they need to be watched
Quite simply because they are Chennai Super Kings. They were irresistible last year and haven’t changed too much in terms of personnel. Moreover, we could be seeing the last outing for this generation of CSK players with the likes Dhoni, Bravo and Watson well into the twilight of their careers. It may not be this season, or even the next, but we could see CSK without these stalwarts soon.
Opening match: vs Royal Challengers Bangalore (8pm, March 23)
CSK squad: MS Dhoni(c), Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis, Murali Vijay, Sam Billings, Ambati Rayudu, Dhruv Shorey, N Jagadeesan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shane Watson, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, David Willey, Kedar Jadhav, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Harbhajan Singh, Karn Sharma, Imran Tahir, Mitchell Santner, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Lungi Ngidi, Mohit Sharma, KM Asif, Monu Kumar