A phenomenal batting line-up, seven bowling options, some excellent fielders... that's our XI for IPL 2021
In a fickle format, the Chennai Super Kings have reached the knockouts in ten of the 11 seasons in which they have been part of the IPL. Dhoni, who was the highest-paid player (Rs 9.5 crore, about US$1.5 million) in the inaugural auction, became the face, the heart, and the soul of the side. His instincts, coupled with coach Stephen Fleming’s tactics, have been central to the Super Kings’ sustained success over the years.
After losing the final off the last ball in 2008, and the semi-final in 2009, CSK secured back-to-back titles in the next two seasons. They faltered in the knockouts in the next four IPLs and were then banned for two years by the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha Committee because of a spot-fixing scandal. In 2018, however, CSK marked their return with their third title - despite, or because of, their squad being heavy on players over 30.
In 2019 the Super Kings played a thrilling final against their bogey opponents, Mumbai, with Rohit Sharma and Co eventually stealing a one-run victory from them. The following year, they struggled to adjust to the conditions in the UAE and crashed and burned, finishing near the bottom of the table.
The Super Kings were trolled as a “Dad’s Army” after the 2018 auction, but they proved the critics wrong, with Shane Watson, one of their several over-30s stars, delivering their third IPL crown with an unbeaten hundred in the final. They couldn’t have asked for a better comeback from a two-year suspension.
The Super Kings hit their nadir when one of their top officials, Gurunath Meiyappan, the son-in-law of Srinivasan, was arrested on charges of cheating, forgery, and fraud. Two years later, the Super Kings franchise was also suspended for Meiyappan’s activities. Dhoni’s personal worst season in 2020 was also CSK’s worst: they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in their history.
Riding on the brilliance of their seamers and of Dhoni and Suresh Raina with the bat, CSK wrapped up eight wins in 14 league games and beat the Kings XI Punjab with ease in the semi. Then the seamers and Muttiah Muralitharan dragged the final to the last ball, but Shane Warne and Sohail Tanvir ensured a happy ending for the Rajasthan Royals.
The IPL moved to South Africa, where Matthew Hayden, Raina and Murali combined to help the Super Kings finish second on the table. However, the Royal Challengers Bangalore’s local boys Manish Pandey and Vinay Kumar bested them in the semi-final.
The season when Dhoni became Chennai’s thala. After CSK blew hot and cold early in the tournament, their captain scorched Kings XI’s Irfan Pathan for 4, 2, 6, 6 in the final over of a must-win clash. In the final, Kieron Pollard threatened to take the game away, but Dhoni stationed Hayden at short mid-off to trap him, and CSK ultimately sealed their first title.
CSK turned Chepauk into a fortress this season, winning all their matches there, including the final, against RCB. Suraj Randiv stepped in to fill the Murali-sized hole, and Shadab Jakati and Doug Bollinger had their moments, but R Ashwin was the standout bowler, even taking out Chris Gayle for a duck in the final - in which M Vijay starred with 95 off 52 balls.
Five of their eight victories in the league stage came at home, and then Vijay fashioned a sixth with a century against the Delhi Daredevils, launching CSK into the final. Vijay, Mike Hussey and Raina all came good in that final, but an unheralded Manvinder Bisla denied Dhoni’s men a hat-trick of titles.
A seven-match win streak eased them into the qualifier, where Hussey, in scintillating form that season, saw off Mumbai with a brilliant 86 not out, and set up a title clash against the same opponents. CSK reduced Mumbai to 52 for 4 in the final, but Pollard tipped the scales Mumbai’s way with an unbeaten 60 off 32 balls.
CSK lost their opening match, against Kings XI in Abu Dhabi, despite piling up 205 for 4. But they won eight of their next nine games on their way to the playoffs once again, despite their home matches being shifted to Ranchi due to a local dispute. Raina shellacked 87 off 25 balls against the Kings XI in the second qualifier, but it wasn’t enough to take them to the final.
Another bumper run at Chepauk, winning six of their seven home matches. They won three on the road to topping the table, and then saw RCB off in the second qualifier. However, Mumbai beat them for the second time in the final. This was an IPL dominated by seamers, with CSK’s Dwayne Bravo finishing atop the wickets charts and Ashish Nehra in fourth place.
CSK played only one game at Chepauk before their home base was moved to Pune because of the Cauvery river water dispute. Lungi Ngidi provided vital breakthroughs on the seam-friendly tracks in Pune, and at the crunch, CSK beat the Sunrisers in the first qualifier as well as the final to return to their title-winning ways.
Finally back to Chepauk, CSK banked on their old spin-to-win template, coming away with six victories in seven home games in the league stage. The solitary defeat came at the hands of Mumbai, where Dhoni sat out to manage his troublesome back. He returned for the first qualifier but Mumbai beat them there, and then again in the final, this time by one run.
After Raina and Harbhajan Singh pulled out of the tournament, citing personal reasons, the CSK management decided not to pick replacements for them, and by the second half of the season, the ageing side "ran out of juice", as Fleming put it. Dhoni and Kedhar Jadhav struggled in the middle order, while the spinners lacked penetration away from Chepauk.
Even as analytics change the T20 landscape, Dhoni continues to trust his instincts to mastermind victories for the Super Kings. While his power-hitting has waned in recent times, he still finds a way to finish games for his franchise. Dhoni is well and truly a cult figure in Chennai.Suresh Raina
Much like Dhoni, Raina is a fan favourite in Chennai. He has made 5368 runs in the IPL; only Virat Kohli has more. He missed only one game for CSK over ten seasons before opting out of the 2020 season.Dwayne Bravo
Bravo, the first player to take 500 wickets in T20s, has several variations in his repertoire, including the slower dipping yorker, and he has become Dhoni’s go-to bowler at the death. In the 2013 IPL, he took 32 wickets in 18 matches at an economy of 7.95. Only Alfonso Thomas has taken more wickets in a T20 league season - 33.R Ashwin
CSK let Ashwin go before the 2018 season, but he is still one of their top wicket-takers. He let rip his offbreaks and carrom balls at Chepauk, often fronting up to bowl the tough overs in the powerplay.Deepak Chahar
Chahar was initially seen as a batting allrounder but he established himself as a swing bowler in the powerplay after being snapped up by CSK in the 2018 auction. In the next season he turned up at the slower Chennai pitches up with a knuckleball and a back-of-length offcutter added to his repertoire.