With just two wins in seven matches, the Chennai Super Kings have already fallen behind in the race for the playoffs. In the 2010 IPL, the Super Kings were in the same scenario after the first half of the season, but they dashed to the playoffs and went on to seal their maiden title. Such a late dash looks unlikely for an ageing squad now, but here's how they could plug the holes and give themselves a chance
Veer away from their rigid tactics
Start slowly. Explode in the slog overs. Spin to win. Super Kings' tried-and-tested template at Chepauk. That, however, has not worked in the UAE. The three-time champions have been the slowest off the blocks (in the powerplay), continued to lag behind in the middle overs thus over-burdening the lower-middle order in the final four overs.
Evidence of the pressure can be seen in the middle order where batsmen have been shuffled unsuccessfully. If the two left-arm allrounders Sam Curran and Ravindra Jadeja batted ahead of their captain MS Dhoni in victory in the tournament opener against the Mumbai Indians, two debutants Ruturaj Gaikwad and N Jagadeesan were unsuccessfully promoted to No. 4 in a few matches.
Kedar Jadhav, anointed No. 4 by head coach Stephen Fleming, now has been dropped after dawdling to 7 off 12 balls against the Kolkata Knight Riders, having walked in with 39 runs needed from 21 deliveries.
Against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, with the asking rate mounting over ten per over right through, Curran only walked in only in the 16th over. His first 10-ball strike rate is 226.67, the best so far this IPL, but the Super Kings have failed to fully utilise his aggressive strokeplay.
The Super Kings' batsmen just don't need to be bold at all time, but adapt quickly to the match situations and move away from the conservative template of the past.
Can't hit sixes? Then rotate the strike better
The Super Kings have managed only 35 sixes in their seven matches - the fewest this IPL. Sure, the bigger boundaries in the UAE are difficult to clear, but the Super Kings haven't been able to rotate the strike either.
In the middle overs (6-16), they have a dot-ball percentage of 33.09 and they have the second-worst run rate (7.61) behind Royal Challengers' 7.21. During this phase, the Super Kings have lost 13 wickets - the fewest among the eight teams - and it is this lack of intent and muddled approach that's ailing them.
The slow-moving legs came into sharper focus during the partnership between Ambati Rayudu and Jagadeesan last Saturday. When the younger Jagadeesan was searching for the double, Rayudu was simply settling for singles. And Jagadeesan himself was run-out while strolling across for a single.
This lethargy has often left Fleming animated and it was exposed by Virat Kohli who was turning ones into twos for fun on Saturday. Most of the Super Kings batsmen are still rusty midway into the season, but they need to swiftly find a way past it and show more urgency.
Can CSK find a place for Imran Tahir?
Why? And how? Firstly, because pitches in the second half of the tournament will become slower, thus favouring spin. Tahir, who was the highest wicket-taker in IPL 2019, could be a handy option.
At whose expense? Probably Dwayne Bravo, considering Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis and Curran have all displayed strong form. Leaving out Bravo would be a tough choice considering he has been a key player in Super Kings' success over the years. But he has batted only once in four matches this season after recovering from a knee injury. Also, Dhoni didn't even complete Bravo's quota of overs against the Royal Challengers.
Although the Super Kings have relied on Piyush Chawla and now Karn Sharma, Tahir is one of the most experienced and successful wristspinners. He was also impressive in the CPL recently and can step up in the slog overs, having taken 22 wickets in 34.5 overs at an economy rate of 8.57 between overs 16 and 20 in the IPL.