Injury-hit Chennai face tougher IPL
Chennai Super Kings
They are the IPL's 'nearly men', coming close to the summit in the first and second season, only to falter in the knock-out stages. However, Chennai Super Kings will begin the 2010 tournament on the back foot. Two key allrounders, Andrew Flintoff and Jacob Oram, are missing in action because of injury, though Oram may play later in the season. Two other overseas players, Muttiah Muralitharan and Makhaya Ntini, are on the wane and that puts a lot of pressure on the captain MS Dhoni.
Flintoff's absence ought to have led to a big signing at the 2010 player auction but there were no major purchases. They bid aggressively for Kieron Pollard, Shane Bond and Kemar Roach, and also tried for Eoin Morgan, but lost all of them to other franchises. They ultimately settled for South African allrounder and ICL returnee Justin Kemp and Sri Lankan allrounder Thissaara Perera. With no apparent world-beaters in the bowling department, Chennai will bank on their batsmen to carry them through again.
Unlike teams such as Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals, Chennai's build-up has been relatively low profile and they prefer it that way. Last month, they announced a five-year deal with a merchandising company to reach out to the fans. In fact, the team has been rated as the "most valuable" in this year's IPL with a brand value of $48.4 million, according to a study conducted by the UK-based Brand Finance.
On the cricketing front, the team began training on March 8, now with the arrival of coach Stephen Fleming. With South Zone out of the Deodhar Trophy, the local players will be available for the training camp.
Perera, a left-hand batsman who bowls nippy right-arm medium pace, recently won a match for Sri Lanka against India in a tri-series in Bangladesh. The IPL scouts were taking notes. Kemp and Albie Morkel will compete to fill the void left by Flintoff and Jacob Oram.
Missing in action
The high-profile Flintoff unfortunately hit his umpteenth injury crisis and will be out of competitive cricket till July. The team was further jolted by news that Oram will be out of action for a month due to a patella tendon tear. There's speculation that he too may miss the entire tournament. VB Chandrasekar, the team's director of cricketing operations, said contingency plans for Oram would be discussed in the coming days. Michael Hussey has Australia commitments till the end of this month, by which time the tournament's first fortnight would have ended.
Watch out for
If Hayden fails, there's always Dhoni to back Chennai up. The captain is in great touch. Re-run the tapes of India's recent home series to see why.
Undoubtedly the batting. Hayden, Suresh Raina and Dhoni were Chennai's top three run-getters last year, giving the team good starts. They will be a handful to contain on Indian pitches.
The lower order hasn't been tested enough - the flipside of having a power-packed top order. Muralitharan has struggled for form with Sri Lanka but he will be expected to carry this attack.
Ignored by his country due to recent indifferent form, fuelled by mass speculation of imminent retirement, Ntini will use this IPL as a platform to show that he still belongs. Unlike Matthew Hayden, his selection isn't guaranteed but Chennai will need his experience to shore up the bowling attack.
IPL 2009 - the key figures
Final position: Semi-finalists
Top-scorer: Hayden with 572 runs at 52.00
Top wicket-taker: Muralitharan with 14 wickets at 18.64
Best result: 92-run win over Royal Challengers Bangalore
Worst result: Six-wicket defeat in the semis to Bangalore
Highest team score: 188 for 3 v Kolkata Knight Riders
Lowest team score: 129 v Bangalore
Prediction for 2010
May find it difficult to make the final four
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo