MS Dhoni does most things right in the Indian Premier League. Having been the face of Chennai Super Kings over the years, the Ranchi hero has got the complete backing of the franchise owners — an enviable and rare status in the cash-rich league. “Thailaivan Dhoni” will take care if the often-repeated words of assurance from the CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan to their fans.
However, the pressure is mounting on CSK in the new IPL 2022 season as the defending champions have gotten off to their worst-ever start to a season — 3 matches and as many defeats! While a comeback from the team known for proving naysayers wrong is never out of question, CSK don’t look like the side from the past that used to cause opposition teams headache.
Firstly, their influential figure, MS Dhoni, is not the captain anymore. While the World Cup-winning captain’s decision to give up the captain’s armband, keeping in mind the future of the franchise, was welcomed, the timing of the decision helped raise a few eyebrows. 2 days ahead of the new IPL 2022 season, the announcement was made official by the franchise which also confirmed that the 40-year-old will represent the franchise ‘this season and beyond’.
It’s no surprise that Dhoni made a unanimous decision. Even CEO Viswanathan said he was ‘surprised’ by the call from the influential captain while also stressing that the team respects his decision.
On the other hand, newly-appointed captain Ravindra Jadeja revealed that Dhoni had informed him about the decision a ‘few months back’, adding that he was mentally prepared to take over the reins of one of the most successful IPL franchises from one of the most successful leaders in world cricket.
NERVY SKIPPER JADEJA
It was never going to be easy shoes to fill but Ravindra Jadeja seems to be feeling the pressure despite Dhoni being ‘more than’ around. Jadeja played down the burden of captaincy after CSK lost their 3rd straight game but the numbers aren’t doing justice to the all-rounder’s claim. Jadeja had returned from a considerably long injury lay-off and the added responsibility seems to be weighing him down before he could find his form back.
It’s still early days but Jadeja’s strike rate tells us a story. Having been one of the most consistent finishers in the IPL over the last two seasons (strike rate of 171.85 and 145.51), Jadeja has been striking at 107.50. The freedom that was evident in Jadeja’s transformation into a capable batter both at the international level and the IPL has been missing so far. Jadeja hasn’t been brave with his bowling efforts as well, having hurled down only 10 overs across 3 games and conceded at 8 runs per over.
“Even the nervousness they felt with Rav (Ravindra Jadeja) as captain it was so unlike CSK in many ways,” former CSK opener Matthew Hayden told Star Sports right after their season-opening defeat to Kolkata Knight Riders.
“I am getting a little nervous about CSK. They have got a new captain, a completely different outfit, some old heads there but there’s also a lot to prove.”
WHO’S REAL CAPTAIN?
Questions are being asked of the authority that Jadeja has as captain. A few former cricketers, including Parthiv Patel and Ajay Jadeja, aren’t impressed by what they were seeing on the field as Dhoni was still seemingly in-charge of the bowling changes and field placements. Jadeja, who is required to field at the deep in crunch overs, acknowledged that it’s not possible for him to walk up to the bowlers and discuss their plans.
It was expected very much that Dhoni will hand-hold Jadeja during the transition period but there is speculation about whether the all-rounder is the man who is making the final call at CSK.
“… I am being critical of the way he (Dhoni) took over. We noticed Dhoni speaking during the team meeting. There’s no doubt Dhoni understands the game better and even CSK fans would be urging him to take over the captaincy again. But I have no doubt that he was wrong in taking over today. If Jadeja was even beginning to feel confident about his captaincy, he won’t now,” Jadeja had told Cricbuzz after Dhoni seemingly began marshalling the troops during their defeat to Lucknow Super Giants, who successfully chased 211 against CSK.
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WEAKENED BOWLING UNIT
Chennai Super Kings’ balance looks wayward this year and the absence of Deepak Chahar, for whom the 4-time champions broke the bank by paying Rs 14 crore (the first time CSK paid more than Rs 10 crore for a player at the auction), is severely hampering their bowling. It is not clear whether Jadeja, who was told about the change in captaincy well in advance, played a part in giving inputs for the team at the auction table.
The bowling, it is safe to say, looks listless, even as West Indies great Dwayne Bravo is shouldering the burden on his shoulders. The two finger spinners in Jadeja and Moeen Ali are not finding the dewy conditions in Maharashtra conducive and the lack of an established wrist-spinner is a big blow for CSK.
Furthermore, CSK’s selection so far hasn’t had the stamp of consistency that defined their DNA over the years. 3 changes, including a couple of forced changes after the first game, and not persisting with Tushaar Deshpande for more than a couple of games, are signs of a team that is not quite sure of their plans so far.
Some of Dhoni’s decisions, over the years, have been inexplicable but have gone on to be masterstrokes. Whether or not appointing Jadeja as his heir apparent is one such decision remains to be seen. However, in the new IPL season, time may quickly run out if Jadeja’s men don’t bounce back sooner than later.