Chennai Super Kings: Season Review
Position: 1st (Runners Up)
Played 17, Won 10, Lost 7
W W W L W W W L L W L W L W L W L
Despite the fact that CSK finished as runners-up this season, they never once won more than three consecutive matches. This was arguably the weakest squad and performance from CSK in half a decade. Of course, given that CSK are so consistently successful, a weak season by their standards is a strong season for most other teams, and given that they finished top of the league-stage and were eventual runners-up it’s hard to criticise them too too strongly. But they’ve set high standards and will be disappointed not to match them.
It is perhaps telling that they had just one player in the top ten run-scorers: Brendon McCullum. Like KKR, CSK played well, without ever playing at their best. The bowling of Dwayne Bravo, who finished as leading wicket-taker and Ashish Nehra who was fourth, was perhaps the key to CSK getting as far as they did this season despite not playing particularly well as a team.
It was revealing that once McCullum left CSK on national duty in England, CSK’s batting, historically strong, suddenly looked surprisingly vulnerable. Dwayne Smith, Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis and MS Dhoni were the men placed twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth in the run-charts, all scoring more than 350 runs but none of them reaching 400 (a first for Raina) and none scored their runs at a strike-rate of above 125. This relative mediocrity exposed CSK’s batting as short of firepower and form once McCullum, who gave CSK some powerful starts, departed. While CSK have front-loaded their batting for some time now, their middle and lower-order has also been capable of providing strong finishes to innings and this season they were unable to do that. They had the second lowest run rate and average of any team in the final five overs of the innings, and although Dhoni scored more runs than any other player in the final five overs, he scored his runs at a lower strike-rate this season than in any of the previous seven.
The most encouraging aspect of CSK’s season was certainly the performances of Bravo, who, injured for last season, reinforced his reputation as one of the most valuable players in the world. His bowling has certainly superseded his batting as the strongest aspect of his game and this season he bowled all 52.2 of his overs in the second half of the innings, when the batsmen are typically looking to attack most, and took 26 wickets at an economy rate of less than 8.20.
Bravo led a CSK attack that generally fared well and is certainly more the reason for their first placed league-stage finish than the batting—they had the best economy rate in the tournament. Nehra bowled consistently well pretty much throughout the course of the season with a couple exceptions. Mohit Sharma played in all CSK’s matches aside from one, while Ishwar Pandey played ten of seventeen. Both men bowled well. Pandey in particular was notably frugal while Mohit collected valuable wickets. CSK’s spin attack is one of the best in the league with Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Pawan Negi collecting 27 wickets between them.
Interestingly, CSK played just fourteen players across their seventeen matches this season, the fewest ever by any team in any IPL season. While such stability is certainly the root of their continued success, they must now, following a season in which they didn’t quite reach top gear, be wary of changing too little heading forward. Indeed, such aversion to change means it’s difficult to gauge the quality of their reserves.
Smith remains a very dangerous player at the top of the order and shouldn’t be off-loaded, but it was hard not to feel that CSK’s batting had a sturdier look to it when Mike Hussey—a less volatile, more reliable batsman—was picked at the end of the season. The trouble with Hussey is that he hardly plays any cricket anymore, and that makes it hard to know exactly how he’s going to fare. Given his problem, CSK could either start selecting Hussey regularly and play him into his groove or form, or a less risky option would be to simply try and sign a player of his ilk still playing regular cricket. Martin Guptill, who opens with McCullum for New Zealand is someone who springs to mind; Hashim Amla is a tantalising option. If it wasn't for the ban on Sri Lankan players playing in Chennai, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene or Kumar Sangakkara would also be good options.
CSK also need to keep an eye on the batting form of Jadeja, Dhoni and Bravo in the middle-order, who, thanks to their all-round abilities remain valuable cricketers but cannot be relied upon to score runs as prolifically as in the past. It would be nice to see CSK give some regular cricket to some of their fringe players, such as Baba Aparajith and Mithun Manhas, who spent the season in the dugout. In the past CSK have had Albie Morkel bolstering the lower-order, and signing a player of his ilk to boost the lower order would also be a good idea. The rule barring Sri Lankans playing in Chennai rules out Angelo Mathews, but his style of player would be ideal for their needs.
Heading forwards, given CSK’s distaste of change, it is hard to know quite how good their depth is. This season we weren’t given a look at some of their more interesting signings: Andrew Tye, Kyle Abbott and Irfan Pathan in particular, and that makes it hard to know whether they’ll look to sign or replace any other pace bowlers before next season, or indeed how strong their reserve batting is. They should remain wary of trusting an entirely Indian-based attack, especially with an ageing Nehra leading their attack.
This has been another strong season from CSK, but there were signs of decline and troubles ahead in the inconsistency of a number of key players. CSK are rarely proactive in the transfer and auction markets, but ahead of next season they should make a couple of minute but important adjustments if they want to maintain their record of reaching the Play Off stage every season. Beyond that, CSK will be grateful for the end of the three-year contract cycle coming up after next season; they may look to muddle through until then, before embarking on a more radical overhaul.