IPL 2023: CSK in an mission to offer their "Thala" Dhoni the best Farewell

Chennai Super Kings (CSK)- a team which has tasted success more often than not in one of if not the greatest cricketing extravaganza across the globe; endured a rare poor season last time but can the Men in Yellow, more popularly known as ‘Daddy’s Army’ stage a comeback this time around? 

They have one huge reason to inspire them for a glorious season and that's to offer their long lasting captain, "Ms Dhoni" the best farewell; after-all no matter, what can be narrated but the relation between franchise and Ms Dhoni can't be spelled out in few words. 

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With Bravo taking IPL retirement, Chennai hoped for some marquee all-rounders:

Prior to the auction, Chennai released one of their veterans, the old workhorse, DJ Bravo, who also ended his IPL journey declaring his IPL retirement, along with a few other names including international recruits like Chris Jordan and Adam Milne. Coming to the auction, CSK had a purse of around 20cr with very few slots to fill and so a big buy was definitely around the corner.

One of CSK’s main problems last year was the absence of a solid pace hitter at the top of the order to take down the faster guys from one end while trying to shield a quality spin hitter in Ruturaj Gaikwad. This was their template in their title winning year in 2021 when Faf du Plessis played the role of a pace hitter to good effect, while Gaikwad acted as the second fiddle, waiting for the tweakers, who in turn were Faf’s kryptonite. 

Auction- and the Stokes conundrum:

CSK tried going for one of their previous players, Sam Curran but with his stocks rising exponentially at the auction, they shifted to plan B and set their eyes on a solid pace hitter in Ben Stokes, eventually buying him for a whooping price of INR 16.25 cr. The English all-rounder had three poor seasons in the IPL with the Rajasthan Royals before missing out after just one match in 2021 and then the entire season in 2022 due to injury and personal reasons. But if you ever doubt in his quality as a player, just watch the WC 2019 final highlights or his Headingley innings or even his T20 WC 2022 final innings.

In fact the last time Stokes played with MS Dhoni in the IPL, albeit under the leadership of MS Dhoni, he was adjudged the MVP of the season with 316 runs and 12 wickets to his name that included a magnificent match-winning hundred. Ben Stokes with all his experience can work as a perfect foil to the young Gaikwad who seemed to be all at sea in 2022, following his stellar run in 2021 when he won the Orange Cap. But the question which lies ahead is will CSK go with him as an opener or slot him in the finisher’s role. For him to open the innings, Devon Conway, who was one of the bright spots in an otherwise bleak season for the Super Kings last year, needs to be pushed down the order. 

Other picks in 2023 Auction

Apart from Stokes, CSK also bought Ajinkya Rahane (INR 50 lakh), Ben Stokes (INR 16.25 crore), Shaik Rasheed (INR 20 lakh), Nishant Sindhu (INR 60 lakh), Kyle Jamieson (INR 1 crore), Ajay Mandal (INR 20 lakh), Bhagath Varma (INR 20 lakh) to have a blend of experience and youth in the squad.

Daddy’s Army- A real concern?

Coming to the batting depth, CSK have a decent top order comprising Ruturaj Gaikwad, Devon Conway, Moeen Ali, Shivam Dube and Stokes(if played at the top). But then they have players like MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu- both great stars in the IPL of yesteryear but unfortunately dwindling at the twilight stages of their career, playing only the IPL.

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And with CSK having paid hefty prices on these veterans, they need to take care of how to maximize their utility in this batting order. MS Dhoni mostly batted down the order last few seasons, trying to minimize the number of balls he faced and taking his chances mostly against the pacers in the slog overs and would most likely continue to do so and support Ravindra Jadeja in the finishing duties. But with Ambati Rayudu slated to play in the middle order, his spin countering would remain a big concern for the CSK management with Rayudu being on the wrong side of 30. 

In search of their proper death overs bowling:

CSK’s bowling woes may come to haunt them, especially in their away games with the side lacking a high pacer quality pacer or a gun death bowler. They have an excellent spin attack for their home games in Chennai with the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Moeen Ali and the mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana in their ranks; and not to forget Mitchell Santner!

But the major concern lies with the pace attack which comprises two pretty decent new ball bowlers in Deepak Chahar and Mukesh Choudhary; but apart from these two there isn’t much with Stokes and Dube sharing the remaining overs. They have a decent death bowler in Dwaine Pretorius but for him to play, one of Conway, Theekshana or Moeen needs to sit out. Kyle Jamieson’s injury has forced CSK to look for alternatives to bolster their otherwise frail pace arsenal.

Perhaps, with the absence of Theekshana at the beginning of the season due to his national commitments, they may have a look at it.

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Predictions going ahead

With CSK’s current squad, they are most likely to dominate their home games but it’s the away games that might be their achilles’ heel, specially on wickets with a bit of pace and bounce like Wankhede, Eden Gardens and Ahmedabad. If they can somehow overcome this with their rich vein of experience in the camp along with their talismanic skipper, the one and only MS Dhoni; then they should qualify for the playoffs this time around after having endured a nightmarish season last time.

Going ahead, their X-Factor for the season can be Ben Stokes without a shadow of doubt. If this man turns up fit and fine with a hunger for victory, there’s no better performer on a grand stage like this and it won’t take long before the Abuden fans begin to chant a new name. Another guy whom I expect to give some good performances would be the young Indian pacer, Mukesh Choudhary. Making his debut last season, Chaudhary was pretty underconfident in the initial few games but with time, he turned out to be CSK’s most potent weapons, particularly with the new ball in the first six overs. And having done the hard grinds I expect the young lanky pacer to put up a much better performance this time around.

Probable playing XI for the season opener

With their opening game in Ahmedabad against the defending champions Gujarat Titans, their 1st playing XI most likely would be:

Ruturaj Gaikwad, Devon Conway, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Ambati Rayudu, Shivam Dube, Ms Dhoni(c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Pretorius, Deepak Chahar, Mukesh Choudhary.

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