Despite an impressive eight-wicket victory against Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore in their last match on 25 October, the Chennai Super Kings failed to make it to the playoffs of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament for the first time in the history of the competition. Their fate was sealed when the Rajasthan Royals — riding on a brilliant century by Ben Stokes — defeated the Mumbai Indians in Sunday’s second fixture.
It is now mathematically impossible for CSK to make it into the top four of this season’s IPL. Their two remaining fixtures are now a mere formality, but there is much to debate as to what went wrong for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men. CSK are, after all, the most successful team in IPL history after the Mumbai Indians.
Injuries and missing players
Had CSK fared better in IPL 2020, it’s unlikely Suresh Raina dropping out before the start of the tournament due to “personal reasons” would have come up. There will certainly be questions raised now over whether the southpaw—the first IPL batsman to reach 5,000 runs—could have given them the mid-innings acceleration they missed through the tournament. CSK also had players get injured at the wrong time. Ambati Rayudu scored 71 off 48 against Mumbai in the first game of the tournament, but missed the next two games because of a hamstring injury. And Dwayne Bravo not being available to bowl the final over because of a groin injury in their crucial game against Delhi Capitals cost them dearly.
An ageing squad
CSK’s average age—over 30 years—is the highest of any team in the tournament, earning them the unwanted sobriquet of “dad’s army”. Even head coach Stephen Fleming described it as an “ageing team”. In a squad of 22, 11 of their members are over 30, including key players like Dhoni (39), Shane Watson (39) and Imran Tahir (41), who’s barely been used this year. Chennai was always one of the older squads but this seems to have finally caught up with them.
Dhoni just hasn’t clicked with the bat
Take a look at these numbers: 19, 16, 28, 3, 21, 10, 11, 0 (DNB), 47*, 15, 29* and 0*. These are figures you would usually not associate with a batsman of Dhoni’s quality, especially in T20 cricket. The 39-year-old has managed just 199 runs in the 12 matches played so far and it has been evident that something is amiss about CSK’s captain. Dhoni, who is an expert at managing an innings in any format of the game, has fallen cheaply throughout the tournament. When the team needed a captain’s innings, Dhoni failed to deliver.
Selections were not spot on
Age was a huge factor in this CSK squad, yes. But there’s still quality in there. Imran Tahir, at 41, might not be the youngest spinner around, but he still has the ability to turn in a few good spells that can change the outcome of a T20 game. He has only featured twice in the tournament so far. The same goes for pacer Lungi Ngidi. Kiwi all-rounder Mitchell Santner has played just once. Some of Dhoni’s key players—the likes of Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja and Kedhar Jadhav—who played more regularly have disappointed this term. You can expect some big changes in the remaining two matches, where they first face the Kolkata Knight Riders on 29 October and then, the Kings XI Punjab on 1 November. Dhoni himself admitted that these last few fixtures could be used to identify the players and team for next year’s tournament. Maybe it’s time to change the winning formula after all.