Controversy mars another top CSK showing
Where they finished
Runner's up. Chennai Super Kings, in another remarkable showing, reiterated that they are consistently the team to beat in the IPL. For the fifth time in six IPLs, Super Kings made the final. For the second time in two years, however, they failed to clear the final hurdle.
In the group stage, they had their most dominant season yet. In contrast to previous editions - 2010 and 2012, in particular - when they had to make a late scramble to make the playoffs, this year there was hardly ever a doubt that Super Kings would progress. They finished at the top of the points table, despite a big loss in their last group game. At one point, they equalled the IPL record for the most number of consecutive wins: seven. A standout feature of their success was the away victories: in a year when several teams were dominant at home, Super Kings were the only side to win more than they lost in away games.
What went right
As has been the case across IPL seasons, Super Kings' biggest strength was that everyone contributed. Michael Hussey might have finished as the tournament's top run-scorer, with 733 runs (equalling Chris Gayle's record for the highest aggregate in a single season) at 52.35, but Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni averaged over 40, too. Dwayne Bravo might have led the wickets chart with 32 at 15.53 (the record tally for a season), but Mohit Sharma, R Ashwin and Chris Morris totalled 15 wickets or more as well. Hussey, Raina, Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Bravo, Morris ... they all produced match-winning contributions at different stages.
In the lead-up to this season, both in the auction and while signing uncapped players, Super Kings' obvious strategy was to strengthen their pace bowling. This noticeably worked for them, with Mohit and Morris becoming regulars in the line-up and adding some sting to what was previously Super Kings' weakest department.
Also, Super Kings seemed to have worked out a solid formula for their batting, and it worked more often than not - begin solidly instead of flamboyantly, build steadily in the first half of the innings, and let the big-hitters loose in the second half. In the final five overs this season, Super Kings scored at 11.29, the best among all the teams. That meant when they batted first, they eased to imposing totals on several occasions; when they chased, they came back to win several times when the match seemed to have got beyond them.
What went wrong
In the final, most of the aspects that made Super Kings a force this season were missing, but there's no denying 2013 was a good year for the team. On the field, that is. Off the field, Super Kings were at the heart of the biggest IPL controversy in six seasons. With top franchise official Gurunath Meiyappan being arrested for alleged betting in the final week of the tournament, the long-standing issue of N Srinivasan's conflict of interest was raked up. Srinivasan is the managing director of India Cements, the franchise owners, and the president of the BCCI. Meiyappan is his son-in-law, and till now was projected as the "team principal". Suddenly, Meiyappan is no longer a bigwig in Super Kings, Srinivasan is under pressure for holding on to his post in the BCCI, and the franchise faces the possibility of being disbanded. Will Super Kings, the team in the IPL, still exist when the Champions League comes around in October?
Super Kings most often structure wins around their batting, and this year their batting was most often built around Michael Hussey. His 17 innings included knocks of 95, 88, 86*, 86*, 67 and 65* - six of the top ten scores by a Super Kings batsman this year. He was one of only two batsmen in the IPL to aggregate over 700 runs, one of only three to average over 50 (400 runs min.), and scored his runs at a very acceptable rate of 130. While he was as solid as ever, he showed that he could also improvise to up the scoring rate when needed: one of the shots of the season was the ramp he played off a yorker-length delivery from Lasith Malinga, over fine leg, for six, in the first Qualifier. At 38, and without the pressures of international cricket to deal with anymore, Hussey should have at least another good year left in him. If he is not retained by Super Kings, he'll be one of the buys of the 2014 auction.
M Vijay looked the weakest link in the Super Kings line-up this year. His stats were not the worst - he scored 312 at 22.28 - but he inspired very little confidence with the manner in which he batted. There were several swings and misses, and he hardly ever dominated the bowling; his strike rate was just 109.09. And this when so much was expected of him, after his excellent showing in the home Test series against Australia in February-March.
Mohit Sharma came into the IPL on the back of a solid Ranji Trophy season, in which he claimed 37 wickets at 23.24. He was one of four Indian quicks signed by Super Kings this year, and had to wait a couple of games before he got his chance. When he did get into the eleven, he bowled an economical spell against Royal Challengers Bangalore and then led Super Kings' rout of Delhi Daredevils with figures of 3-0-10-3 (including the wickets of Warner and Sehwag). He played every match after that, and finished as Super Kings' second-highest wicket-taker (20) and most economical bowler (6.43). Apart from his accuracy in keeping the ball on offstump, he impressed with his back-of-the-hand slower ball.
Recommended for retention
MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Michael Hussey
Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo