Chennai Super Kings finished seventh in IPL 2020 but in the next edition, they came back to winning ways as they won the IPL for the fourth time by beating Kolkata Knight Riders in the final.
“Message to the fans – We will come back stronger.” This is what MS Dhoni said when Chennai Super Kings ended their last league game against Punjab Kings in IPL 2020. They had won the match by nine wickets but for the first time in their history, they had not qualified for the playoffs. The 2020 season was terrible for them. Two of their core players were laid low with coronavirus. Two other key players refused to play due to bio-bubble fatigue. There were injuries to key players also. With no consistency and massive shake-ups, Chennai Super Kings finished in the seventh position.
348 days later, a spectacular turnaround came about. Chennai Super Kings once again put up a clinical show, finishing in the top two in the league stages. They benefited from a botched captaincy decision from Rishabh Pant in the first Qualifier to enter the final. In the summit clash against Kolkata Knight Riders, they fired on all cylinders to win the IPL title for the fourth time by beating Eoin Morgan’s team by 27 runs. 2020 UAE proved to be their lowest ebb. 2021 again in the UAE proved to be their ultimate redemption.
In 2021, Chennai Super Kings had a core that remained intact for most of the tournament. They changed the side a total of six times in 16 matches throughout the IPL. That showed that in 2021, CSK wanted to maintain momentum with the same core throughout. One thing that helped them immensely was the partnership of Faf du Plessis and Ruturaj Gaikwad at the start. MS Dhoni was handicapped by a weak opening batting in IPL 2020 with Shane Watson not firing in the league stages.
Ruturaj Gaikwad, who had three fifties in IPL 2020 at the fag end, gave CSK stability at the top along with Faf du Plessis. The duo aggregated 756 runs for the opening wicket, which is the second-best in one edition after Jonny Bairstow and David Warner in the 2019 IPL. That level of consistency, with Gaikwad winning the Orange Cap with 635 runs, was simply magnificent for Chennai Super Kings. Du Plessis, with his experience, was brilliant with 633 runs. His knocks at crucial intervals, including the one in the final, was instrumental in CSK dictating terms to the opposition
The middle order of Chennai Super Kings was slightly weak. Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Moeen Ali, and MS Dhoni were not setting the stage on fire consistently. But, Chennai Super Kings persevered. They gave Moeen Ali an extended run. The extended run gave Moeen confidence and his blitz in the final was a perfect payback to the confidence shown by the Chennai Super Kings management. Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu fired in some important games. But, MS Dhoni was struggling and that remained a big issue for Chennai Super Kings.
But, Dhoni’s struggles were masked by the excellence of Ravindra Jadeja at the death overs. His strike rate in that period exceeded well over 250 in most of the games. Jadeja’s cameos often dealt the shock value to Chennai Super Kings’ opponents. The games against Royal Challengers Bangalore in Mumbai and against Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi are classic examples. Jadeja’s 37-run over of Purple Cap winner Harshal Patel totally changed the dynamics of the Kaveri Derby. Against KKR, had he not hit 22 runs against Prasidh Krishna, CSK might have fallen short of the chase.
MS Dhoni mentioned it in the post-match presentation. Robin Uthappa confirmed it. With very few words, a lot is spoken. “We don’t really talk a lot. It’s more one-on-one. Our practice sessions are more like a meeting session also. People are more open that way. The moment you talk in a team room there is a bit of pressure. You can’t deliver without a good team. We also have great individuals as well,” Dhoni stated.
The clear, albeit less mode of communication is one factor that has always helped Chennai Super Kings. When one looks at media handlings, Chennai Super Kings are discreet. Only one person attends the PC while the other players ensure they get their skills upgraded. “They create a very secure environment within the group. There’s a lot of clarity and communication within the support staff and the players and that really helps in building a secure group. I believe it’s your players who are not playing in the eleven that really create the atmosphere within the group. They make sure that they look after the players who are not playing in the eleven,” Robin Uthappa said.
But, the fourth IPL title has clearly cemented MS Dhoni’s reputation as one of the best in the business. Indeed, when he said that he has not left anything behind, it was classic MS Dhoni. Chennai Super Kings have once again shown that age is just a number. Utilizing experience and channeling it in the right areas is something that everyone needs to learn from Dhoni and CSK. For now, it is Whistle Podu time in Chennai and for all the fans in yellow.