Write them off at your peril – I did that in 2018 and they made me eat my words! – but is now the right time to start asking about the possibility of this being the end of an era for Chennai Super Kings?
The franchise has won three out of 12 IPL tournaments, although it was suspended for two seasons due to match fixing allegations which involved CSK’s owner, N Srinivasan’s son in law. MS Dhoni has also captained the side to a further five finals. It’s fair to say that they’ve enjoyed a successful time of things when they have been allowed to play.
But what now? CSK has always been a side cast in it’s captain’s image and the sun is most certainly setting on Dhoni’s career now. He played his last game for India in last year’s World Cup semi-final and it’s natural to wonder, at 39 years of age, how much longer he’s going to continue for.
On the face of it, Dhoni is doing okay, with 133 runs from seven innings at an average of 33.25 and a strike rate of 135. Yet it seems apparent that some of the old Dhoni magic has gone. In recent years he has been prone to playing baffling innings, most notably for India at Lord’s in 2018 and against England at the World Cup at Edgbaston last year, where he occupied the crease but showed little to no intent to keep pace with rapidly escalating run rates. That same trait has been on display at this year’s IPL.
If you’re not trying to win, what are you trying to do?
There seems to be a general belief that this is the end of the road for Dhoni and CSK. Once heavy favourites every season, CSK are not much fancied in the IPL betting markets, either. An aging squad will do that.
Alongside Dhoni, Shane Watson and Dwayne Bravo are also showing signs of their advanced miles on the clock. Watson no longer bowls, looks cumbersome in the field and has struggled to find batting rhythm at times. Bravo has only batted twice in five outings but has conceded runs at 8.72 per over.
One golden oldie is still sparkling, though. Faf du Plessis is enjoying an excellent tournament, with 307 runs at 51 and strike rate of 146. He’s the third top scorer in the tournament.
Alongside him, the inimitable Sam Curran is giving CSK fans hope for a bright new era. Batting up and down the order, the young England all-rounder has made an impact with bat an ball, scoring his runs at a strike rate of 190 and taking nine wicket at 27.
Another factor to consider in the CSK story is the situation surrounding this year’s IPL. Usually, CSK would play half of their games at the Chepauk stadium, which the team has been built to thrive at. Given the global coronavirus pandemic, however, this year’s IPL is being played in the UAE and the pitches haven’t really suited CSK’s game plan. So far.
With the limited number of stadia being used, pitches will wear out as the tournament progresses. If this occurs sufficiently for CSK, the slower, lower pitches could bring them right back into this tournament. That is when the experience in the squad could prove invaluable.
Whilst the end of an era is inevitably nigh at CSK, there might yet be a swansong for Dhoni and co. before they put their feet up in retirement. There must also be a temptation for Dhoni to play one more IPL in front of his adoring public. Perhaps we can’t write them off just yet.
By Miles Reucroft