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Skillful CSK wobble at the final hurdle

Sticking to a set formula has worked in the past for Chennai Super Kings and it helped them top the league stages, but things didn't go so well in play-offs of IPL 2015

Arun Venugopal

Tournament overview

MS Dhoni said at the presentation ceremony after the final that Chennai Super Kings "never reached 100% efficiency." That was pretty much the story of their tournament. They haven't quite exuded the menace they used to in the past, and even looked vulnerable on many occasions. That they still topped the table in the league stage and made it to the final tells you how good they are at winning games when not completely on top of things.
Their third defeat in IPL finals since 2011, though, has shown how much other teams have caught up with them. Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders, with two titles each, are now level with Super Kings.
Their most vaunted strengths - consistency of selection and a reliance on familiar methods - have lost some sheen. Super Kings might have often been rewarded by their continued investment in a few players, but there is a hint of intransigence to their strategy.
It mightn't be a bad idea to look at a more optimal use of their squad players. They used only 14 players in the tournament - not a bad thing in itself - but the likes of Irfan Pathan, acquired at Rs 1.5 crore, and Rahul Sharma didn't get a game even when someone like Ravindra Jadeja was struggling.
Their batsmen, except Brendon McCullum, underachieved throughout the tournament. This was best indicated by Suresh Raina's failure to pass 400 runs for the first time in eight seasons. On the brighter side, the performances of players such as Ashish Nehra and Pawan Negi - on opposite ends of the age spectrum - and Dwayne Bravo, who finished with the most wickets in the tournament, must have been heartening.

High Point

It came in the early part of the competition, when they won six of their seven games. They demonstrated great range in their victories during this phase. While most of their wins were by comfortable margins, they held their nerve at the clutch to close out tight games against Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders.

Low Point

Defeat in the final wouldn't have rankled them as much as the way they lost it. Everything that could go wrong did. After making a not-so-sound call at the toss, Super Kings conceded 202, easily 20 more than they would have wanted to. To make matters worse, they ambled during the Powerplay, helping Mumbai put the contest to bed inside the first 10 overs.

Top of the class

Brendon McCullum's contribution went beyond being the leading run-getter for Super Kings. He scored 436 runs in 14 games with two fifties and a hundred, but perhaps more valuable was the daring he displayed at the top that covered up for some sluggish batting from his team-mates.
His acrobatics set the tone for an already competent fielding unit as well. So McCullum's absence in the climactic phases, as Dhoni and head coach Stephen Fleming conceded, was a body blow. And it showed with fumbles and dropped catches becoming a more regular occurrence.

Under-par performer

Ravindra Jadeja hasn't quite been the same cricketer after his shoulder injury. After modest returns in the World Cup, there was no redemption for him in the IPL. Even as he produced the odd good performance with the ball, he couldn't do justice to the finisher's role. It was only after Negi's arrival, and his strong hitting towards the end, that Jadeja the batsman could relax. Despite his obvious talent, Super Kings could have considered benching him at some point in favour of either Pathan or Rahul Sharma.

Tip for 2016

They might need to reassess the make-up of their squad. Michael Hussey might dig deep to conjure a gem every once in a while, but, at this point, it appears beyond him to deliver consistently as a player. More than anything, Super Kings need to be a lot more flexible on the tactical front.

Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo