Road to playoffs: CSK

Fuelled by luck, Dhoni and co. hope to make it three in a row

Mumbai 22 May 2012
“Tough watching the RCB chase. Bags packed and then unpacked and then packed again. Emotional roller coaster”, tweeted Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming when the Royal Challengers Bangalore were struggling to chase down 136 against the then bottom-placed Deccan Chargers. Eventually, RCB choked and crashed out of IPL 2012, presenting CSK a spot in the playoffs on account of their superior net run-rate.

Consider the three last-ball successful chases and an abandoned match, and you know that the defending champions have lived on the edge right through the league phase of the tournament. They have, nevertheless, managed to cross the line when it mattered.

CSK’s rough ride had a lot to do with them losing their invincibility at home. The team struggled to get to terms with the newly-laid wicket at Chepauk. Their star off-spinner, R Ashwin, who tormented batsmen in previous seasons, looked pedestrian this year. Their batsmen faltered in reading the two-paced wicket. Their battered confidence didn’t help them in their away games either.

What MS Dhoni’s men did remarkably well, though, is fight. Despite the crumbling middle order, inconsistent bowling and out of form Indian players, CSK never gave up till the final ball. They were brave and luck favoured them.

IPL 2012: The beginning was far from perfect – a thumping eight-wicket loss to the Mumbai Indians at home. CSK’s first win in the tournament was their 74-run cake-walk against the Deccan Chargers in Hyderabad. This win was scripted by the all-round brilliance of Ravindra Jadeja. The confidence of that triumph was shattered when they went to Delhi and returned with a harrowing eight-wicket defeat on a pacy wicket. CSK batsmen collapsed for 110 against the Daredevils’ fast bowling attack.

Then, they came home and hosted RCB for the most exciting match of the season. An unlikely chase of 206 runs was made possible by Albie Morkel’s seven-ball cameo of 28 runs. They continued to blow hot and cold with an away defeat and then a home victory against the Pune Warriors India and another last-ball win, against Rajasthan Royals at home.

Three narrow defeats that followed – against KXIP, KKR and MI – were a wake up call of sorts. This inspired the men from Chennai to three consecutive wins for the first time in the tournament. Despite losing their final league match to KXIP, CSK remained in contention thanks to a washed out game in Bengaluru.

Batting star:
Faf du Plessis came into the CSK squad in IPL 2011. He warmed the bench for the entire tournament and failed to get a game in the 2011 CLT20 as well. In 2012, Michael Hussey’s international commitments presented him with a chance to make it to the playing XI. By the time Hussey joined the team, du Plessis had become the most consistent performer of the team.

The South African batsman took on the mantle of opening the batting and made the position his own. Every time he stepped in to bat, he ensured his team got off to a good start, at a decent pace. In his debut IPL season, du Plessis has already scored more half-centuries – three – than any of his teammates. His consistency at the top of the order made saw him don the Orange Cap for a while, before he had to make way for Hussey at the top of the order. With 398 runs at 33.16 and a strike-rate of 130.92, du Plessis has been CSK’s best batsman in IPL 2012 so far.

Bowling star: Ben Hilfenhaus joined the team half way through the league phase and has played six matches so far. Already, he is the second-highest wicket-taker for CSK with 10 scalps – one less than Dwayne Bravo and Jadeja, who have played 16 matches each. Hilfenhaus has become an invaluable asset to the CSK bowling attack with his ability to swing the ball in Indian conditions at a decent pace. His best performance so far has been a fiery spell of swing bowling to rattle the dangerous top order of the Delhi Daredevils. The late out-swinger to dismiss Virender Sehwag was one of the best deliveries of the tournament.

X-Factor: Perhaps, the most important factor for CSK so far this season has been played by luck. That they have made it into the top four is a beautiful conspiracy of destiny. After they lost their last league match to KXIP, their only chance of survival was for RR and RCB to lose to the Deccan Chargers – the then last-placed team on the points table. As if breathed with a new life, the Chargers defeated both their opponents to answer CSK’s prayers.

CSK would obviously want the lady luck to keep smiling upon them during the playoffs as well. But what they’d want more is for their cricketing strength to come good. With some world-class finishers in their side – especially, Dhoni, Bravo and Morkel – the team from down south will always have an edge while chasing big targets or even while setting them. In Bravo and Morkel, they also have two perfect Twenty20 packages that can bat explosively, take wickets when needed and field brilliantly.
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