Super Kings look to turn focus back on cricket
Chennai Super Kings finished runners-up in IPL 2013, having lost to Mumbai Indians in the final. They might not be the current IPL champions, but they have consistently been the team to beat in the competition. Five times in six IPLs they've made the final, they've won the title twice - in 2010 and 2011 - and took home the Champions League T20 title in 2010.
The team comes into this tournament with off-field controversy hanging heavily about them. News of one of their top officials Gurunath Meiyappan being arrested for alleged betting - which is illegal in India - broke a week before the IPL 2013 final, and he has been chargesheeted on the eve of the team's first CLT20 game*. Gurunath is the son-in-law of BCCI president N Srinivasan, and his arrest raked up the longstanding conflict of interest questions over the board president also being managing director of the company - India Cements - that owns Super Kings. MS Dhoni too had conflict of interest queries thrown his way, after it was learnt he temporarily owned shares in a player-management company that looked after the financial interests of his India and Super Kings' team-mates, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja.
On the upside, Super Kings' line-up is one of the strongest around in T20 cricket. They have ever-dependable batsmen in Michael Hussey and S Badrinath, big-hitters in Dwayne Bravo and Albie Morkel, and a combination of the two in Dhoni and Raina. Hussey and Bravo topped the batting and bowling charts in IPL 2013. In the spin department they have India's leading spinner across formats, R Ashwin, and the current No. 1 bowler in ODI cricket, Jadeja. Previously, pace bowling was a bit of a weakness, but they beefed up their attack in the lead-up to IPL 2013, signing lesser known but testing bowlers Chris Morris, Jason Holder and Mohit Sharma.
Super Kings will be keen on doing well for another reason. They have had by far the most settled squad in the IPL - Dhoni, Raina, Hussey, Ashwin, Morkel and Badrinath, among others, have all been with the franchise since its inception in 2008. In February, the squad - or most of it - is likely to be disbanded; as per the IPL regulations all players are supposed to go back into the auction in 2014. Given the possibility of this being the last tournament this bunch plays together, and the camaraderie that has built up over the seasons, they'll be eager to end on a high.
Super Kings will not play any matches at home, at Chepauk, but that's not to say they won't be treated like the home team: three of their four group games will be in Ranchi, Dhoni's hometown.
As they have been for years now, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and R Ashwin will be the cornerstones on which Super Kings' campaign is built. Dhoni's stats for Super Kings are solid - he has 2488 runs at a strike-rate nudging 140, and only two ducks in 97 innings for the team - but it is his temperament that is most prized. How many times has he "taken it late" and, despite it getting to a point when the chase seems beyond the team, delivered with an almost unnatural calm? Suresh Raina is the only player to have featured in every single one of his IPL franchise's games so far, scoring 3189 runs in 113 matches, while R Ashwin's economy rate of 6.53 is the best among all IPL bowlers who've sent down 150 overs or more for one franchise.
Given Super Kings' line-up has remained largely the same over the seasons, the team rarely fields untested performers. In IPL 2013, though, they did have two new faces: pace bowlers Mohit Sharma and Chris Morris. Both proved to be highly effective and featured regularly in the eleven, and have since gone on to represent their countries in ODIs. Mohit was even named Man of the Match on international debut.
It's hard to pinpoint on-field weaknesses in Super Kings' line-up. Their biggest challenge could be putting the off-field controversies that have recently plagued the franchise out of their minds. Following their deflated showing in the IPL 2013 final, coach Stephen Fleming said the team had "been through a lot and didn't respond well". They've had more than enough time for the initial shock of Gurunath's arrest to wear off, but the controversy still rages on. They can't afford to let it distract them once again.
*12.30GMT, September 21: The preview has been updated after Gurunath Meiyappan was chargesheeted
Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo