The English Premier League (EPL) and the Indian Premier League (IPL) have quite a few similarities, albeit hosting two completely different sports. Both the leagues have revolutionized the way their respective sports have since functioned. They are host to some financially very well equipped teams that have resources in quantities fit for a sizeable population. The leagues are also home to some of the very best sportsmen in the world.
Amidst the plethora of similarities, there’s one thing that you can’t miss. The leagues have had one team that has more or less dominated since its very inception. The EPL has had Manchester United, a team that has won the EPL title 13 out of 23 times over two decades now. Much like the initial stages of the EPL, the Chennai Super Kings, captained by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, have similarly dominated, in their own way, the IPL. The preceding seven seasons of the Indian Premier League has seen the team in yellow reach the top four and the knockout stage every single time. If that isn’t consistency, then what is!
A typical CSK win would include them have a batting collapse of sorts, then suddenly flourishing right at the end. A similar occurrence takes place with the bowling: first leaking a lot of runs and then the ‘spin twins’ Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja tightening the screws, culminating with a scurry of slower balls and yorkers by the mercurial Dwayne Bravo. The Chennai Super Kings are an excellent example of the phrase: “It doesn’t depend on how well you start. It depends on how well you finish.”
An exemplary example of the abovementioned process would be the match against the Kolkata Knight Riders which took place earlier this season at the M.A.Chidambaram stadium in Chennai. 64-2 from 8.4 overs soon turned into 88-5 with just 7 overs to go. Half the fearsome batting line up of the Super Kings were back in the hut. Faf Du Plessis and Ravindra Jadeja plodded their way into boredom. It was Ravichandran Ashwin, a bowler by trade, who provided the fireworks with 2 boundaries in the last over, 2 boundaries that proved to be the difference in the end.
The team from Kolkata, the Knight Riders, began in a fine way with a flurry of boundaries from the willow of Robin Uthappa. Uthappa made the pitch look like a featherbed as he raced to 39 in just 17 balls before being dismissed due to some good catching by Kiwi Brendon McCullum, though mostly due to his own reckless shot making. After the departure of the Karnataka wicket keeper, Dhoni and his men put the pressure back on to the team from the East. A brave effort from Ryan ten Doeschate at the very end of the match didn’t deter Dhoni, nor did it stop his winning streak at Chepauk.
In the midst of all the fervor stood Dhoni, calm and composed as always. The success of the team in yellow has had a lot to do with a man whose roots are far away from the City of Idlis, Dosas and Sambar.
His captaincy has often been under immense flak in the longer formats of the game, but in T20s, Dhoni’s captaincy credentials have always been, and most probably still are, unrivalled. On various occasions, Dhoni has made fielding changes which most captains wouldn’t even think of executing.
Remember the final of 2010? Remember Kieron Pollard tearing apart CSK’s bowlers in his first six balls as he smashed them for two fours and as many sixes off just half a dozen deliveries? Remember the last ball of the penultimate bowler? Remember Dhoni moving Matthew Hayden on to a very straight mid off? Remember Pollard hitting the very next delivery into Hayden’s hands? Remember the celebrations that followed? Well, that’s a Dhoni-esque decision for you.
T20 games go about at such a rapid pace that it is very hard to notice the subtle nuances of what takes place during the course of an innings. It is very difficult for someone sitting at home to know what exactly is happening, other than the nonsensical ads which keep popping up, every other ball turns out to be a ‘Hotstar Moment’ or a Yes Bank Maximum. And the IPL defines entertainment. More than the cricket itself, it is everything around it that receives the attention: the pretty cheerleaders, the owners, the not-so-interesting Umpire Cams, the Wives and Girlfriends and what not!
But, it is in these situations that MS Dhoni and his men revel.
Over the course of the past 8 years, the team from Chennai have retained their core on most occasions. MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina have been part of this franchisee since its inception, with the latter playing every single match for the Men in Yellow. Others, such as Ravichandran Ashwin and Michael Hussey, have also been part of the CSK set up for a long time. This has ensured that their chemistry is never disturbed.
Even now, the Super Kings possess a team filled with match winners. Yes, that can be said of other IPL sides too, but not many sides have the quality of Raina, Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum, Faf Du Plessis and Dhoni himself. On their day, any one of them can win a match on their own. Case in point: McCullum’s 100* against SRH earlier this season which virtually sealed the deal for the Super Kings.
While chasing big totals they seem to flirt with the run rate, often too much, but when it matters the most, they perform. The match against the Kings XI at Dharamshala in the 2010 edition is a prime example: 16 runs were needed off the last over and like always, Dhoni stayed calm and finished off the game with a couple of balls to spare, thereby propelling them into the Semi Finals.
Another thing that they’ve done well is playing to their strengths. They’ve never had an express quick consistently playing for them. By express, I mean someone in the category of Shaun Tait, Dale Steyn or Mitchell Starc. The ‘fastest’ bowler that they have played for a prolonged period is Aussie Doug Bollinger, someone who is very consistent with his line and length more than anything else.
The 22 yards at Chepauk has traditionally favored slower bowlers with its low bounce and cracks present all over, and the Super Kings have been excellent in playing at least a couple of spinners every match. Muttiah Muralitharan, Shadab Jakati, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and now Pawan Negi, with Suresh Raina providing a helping hand. They’ve done it well.
They almost pulled off another upset against the Mumbai Indians on Friday, and it shouldn’t be too long before we see CSK pull off a win from nowhere.
Whether we shall be witness to CSK doing something similar to what the Red Devils have done in the English Premier League would be highly debatable, but, considering their history and recent performances, it is evident that CSK will continue doing what they do best: win.
How long that will continue is a question only the gods can answer. Until then, let’s cherish the last ball finishes, the talent that’s unearthed from nowhere, the spectacular catches, the helicopter shots, the jigs after a Bravo dismissal, the seemingly unthinkable comebacks, and the wins that can be achieved by one team alone, the Chennai Super Kings.