May 4, 2012

Is CSK's reputation strangling them?

They seem a shadow of their former selves. Has fear of losing begun to tie them down?

Jonathan Wilson's very academic dissection, in the Guardian this week, of Barcelona and Pep Guardiola's decline is worthy of much analysis. This is a shortish article, so let's get into it straightaway.

First, let us not forget that Barcelona is a team that many still view as the greatest on the planet. They have won a couple of trophies this year, made the semi-final of the Champions League, and finished a very strong second in La Liga, in the eyes of some a league that produces the highest quality of football. Many managers, owners and fans would have celebrated it as a great year. But Barcelona cannot, for like Manchester United and Tendulkar and Federer they are condemned to be weighed in different scales. A second place for Valencia or Arsenal would be a moment to celebrate; for Barcelona or United, something to grieve over.

Wilson also quotes a Hungarian coach, Bela Guttman, as saying that the third year is fatal; that that is normally the span of a great team. It is arguable but it possibly applies to family businesses too. The patriarch struggles and sets up something from scratch, the next generation, which has seen strife, understands the value of what he has done and takes the business to new heights, and finally the third, unaware of adversity and the need to stay rooted and fight your way out of trouble, leads the decline. You see that in individual sport: the mystery bowler and the girl with the booming forehand surprise everyone initially, ride the wave in the second, and become predictable and one-dimensional in the third - unless they have learnt to re-invent themselves in the interim.

Often great teams are blinded by success. They make the mistake of thinking that success will continue to flow, and in doing so, ignore the reasons that produced success in the first place. The great West Indies team went into decline because that great generation had been built on discipline and rigour. In subsequent teams that was a matter of individual choice, not a team ethic. The men who mattered didn't worry about the back end, about the systems that would keep the supply line running. Maybe they began believing stories of their own invincibility, a state of mind that afflicts even the mightiest.

And now I see the Chennai Super Kings, by some distance the best team in the relatively short history of the IPL, two-time winners, past winners of the Champions League, wearing the same colours as they did in those years, showcasing the same personalities but playing like someone else. The team, and its captain, look lethargic, there is little joy on the field, they look like they are reading from a tired script. An old family doctor would have said: give them a dose of vitamins.

Why is this great team suddenly floundering? I wonder if, at the start of the season, they were consumed by their own invincibility. In the two years gone by, whenever a tense situation loomed, they knew (and often the opponents knew too) that someone would take them home. That Dhoni, one of the game's great finishers, would find a way if no one else did. But in great teams you need free spirits continuously challenging beliefs, arguing against the status quo. The current method might still be the best, but it must emerge as such after being challenged. Who challenges Dhoni, a player with a record that few can aspire to possess? Is that it? Or is he just tired?

Maybe their reputation is strangling them: the fact that if CSK win it is just another day, but if they lose it is an event. And so, are they scared of losing? I sense this in another outstanding team on paper, the Mumbai Indians, too; this great fear of losing. And so, as Wilson says, maybe there is a "negative self-immolation": the tension, the obsession with the result. Inevitably tense teams are defensive teams. Flair resides with its close companion, freedom. CSK look tense, MI look tense. Delhi Daredevils have bigger deficiencies but they seem not to obsess over them. Kings Xl and Rajasthan Royals don't have the firepower, but they have freedom and positivity. They are not strangled by reputation.

Great teams replenish with youth, for the young bring vigour and irreverence. They do not accept reputations; you have to prove your worth to them. When the mighty are on their toes, they are doubly dangerous. Maybe that is the lesson for all teams. Maybe that is what Alex Ferguson does so well, constantly injecting youth. Maybe at Barcelona the speeches, the words of inspiration, have lost their sting. Maybe another Guardiola is needed. And maybe at CSK a vibrant, positive challenge to authority will work.

It will be interesting to see because in their completely different worlds, in differently evolved leagues, these are great teams.

Harsha Bhogle is contracted to the IPL. He also commentates on other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 7, 2012, 21:42 GMT

    @sayantan Its a joke when someone says Ashwin is Mediocre.Please check with the records.Ravindra Jadeja was the most sought after player this IPL. I wonder if u follow all the buzz around the League.Everyone were waving the Indian flag when Dhoni hit the six of the last over in the WC2011.I would say that the league is not yet over.BTW Dhoni can choose the players whom he wants at his disposal.The unit has some dexterous people behind the screens,Simsek,King,Russell.

  • Dummy4 on May 7, 2012, 18:33 GMT

    CSK is being ruined by MSD and his insanely illogical desire of playing extremely mediocre players like Aswin & Ravi Jadeja.

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2012, 18:48 GMT

    CSK has enough batters on top, if morkel gona come and face only 10 balls, no point of having him in team as a bowler, he can be replaced by a genuine fast bowler, may be bollinger or kulasekara, which will give dhoni a bowling option.....

  • Karthik on May 6, 2012, 18:45 GMT

    Dear Alesk400, Its funny that you consider a team with 2 IPL wins, 1 finals, 1 SF (their worst finish) and a CL win due to LUCK. Taking smart decision in crunch time is everything in T20. Just imaging if Pollard was promoted ahead of Duminy in 2010 finals. It would have altered the course of IPL. Great teams do the right thing during pressure. Dhnoi is the greatest leader (along with Sourav) that Indian cricket has produced in last 20 years. But India can rule only in IPL because our cricketers are generally hyped as they are duds (after Dravid retired) outside sub contintent.

  • Karthik on May 6, 2012, 18:29 GMT

    @arpit, what about Jadeja, YP, Vinay Kumar performance in internationals? I think IPL has given opportunity to many players outside CSK also. BTW Aswhin still has the best economy among all bowlers in IPL. Request you to check the facts. What is wrong if he is selected to play for India basd on this? Its a different thing if he had not done well for India but he has just played 5-6 matches yet. This is IPL and this article is about CSK. Without any doubt they are the best side in 1st 4 IPLs. Last question. Is Srikanth, Sreenivasan more powerful than Sharad Pawar and Ambani?

  • Karthik on May 6, 2012, 18:21 GMT

    CSK bashing is obviously due to 2 cosecutive wins and a CL win (with semis being their worst result in IPL) has not gone down well with these sports loving people. Many do not consider CSK as having great players because they play as a unit. All the players in the playing 11 have won man of the match awards. Indians are used to praise individual glory forgetting cricket is a team sport. This is the only country that celebrate when their star player (read Sachin) score century but India loses. India sacrificed Asia cup finals for his century. CSK along with RR utilise the resource in the best way. Having said that CSK is playing their worst cricket in IPL and I dont think with this form they deserve play off spot. They are running out of gas

  • prasanna on May 6, 2012, 15:08 GMT

    CSK is actually struggling to find a good team, they are focusing more on batting which is already having great muscles, what they need to focus is on bowling, which is currently a fat on their body. We hardly see morkel & badrinath getting enough batting, when they already have batsmen who are not getting any chance to bat i wonder why is it not a good idea to include bollinger and hilfenaus?.I think they effectively using only 9 players remaining 2 players they are in the team only to do fielding, I wonder how CSK team management dint give a thought on this.

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2012, 5:29 GMT

    What CSK lacks at this moment is a strike bowler like Morne Morkel/Dale Steyn/Malinga, they had Bollinger doing this job in their last seasons, however now he is not in a great form. In this IPL season, CSK is winning only because of their batting and whenever the batsmens fails to score a competitive total, they fail, however this was not the case last season where they made suprises even with the bowling. Having said that, CSK will definitely bounce back in this season itself, Kulasekara could do a decent job, though cannot replace Bollinger of last season, having Jadeja is another advantage, CSK has got this season. If Murali Vijay could regain his form, then CSK will become invincible even in this season. CSK had been experimenting all their different permutations and combinations so far, the time has come to make it work what they have learnt form their experimentations like Bravo should never be allowed to bowl power play overs and Saha, Yo Majesh are not fit in playing 11.

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2012, 4:46 GMT

    In Harsha Bhogle's articles, I find more questions than answers. Is it an effect of being the host for espn-star putting questions to the likes of Gavaskar ? Harsha, we need your opinion not your doubts and questions. :) You have very good analytical skills and we would like you to stand by what you say rather than asking questions to the audience. :)

  • Alex on May 6, 2012, 4:26 GMT

    I define dhoni captaincy to one Word. LUCK. He is a luckiest person. CSK team is full of no bodies from beginning yet they won. Only one reason , LUCK. Lots of team had great T20 players , still they could n't for some reason or another. CSK had no planning , they just damn lucky. CSK had bunch of all rounders who can field well. May be you can give them brainy team when it comes to crunch time they make best decision. They really don't have talent even from the b first IPL. What they had is luck of Dhoni and his aura. His luck deserts him when his ego grow too much. At present he is not a good captain.

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