CSK aim for happy homecoming and a fitting Dhoni finale


CSK aim for happy homecoming and a fitting Dhoni finale

Prakash Govindasreenivasan

The hot and humid air of Chennai has a palpable sense of anticipation. Chepauk, with its new canopies, shiny bucket seats and a gigantic Dhoni mural, is ready for the long-awaited reunion. In the overriding narrative this season of teams playing at their home ground again, no other side will be happier. The venue was their citadel even four seasons ago when they last played there, only breached by the eventual champions.

Chennai’s anticipation could be accompanied by overwhelming emotions at the prospect of the man painted beautifully across the big mural playing his final season. CSK have the added motivation of bringing down the curtains on his illustrious time with the franchise by adding another glory-filled chapter to it. Dhoni’s CSK legacy perhaps stretches beyond the titles won, but to win another would mean walking off having put the team on par with their trophy nemesis, Mumbai Indians.

On the back of last year’s form and an imbalanced squad, title talk could seem outlandish heading into the season. But for a side often indulging in the outlandish, there are no tables that a happy homecoming can’t dramatically flip around.

Where they finished last year: Ninth

What did they try to address in the mini-auction?

Not much. They went in needing a certified death bowler having conceded at 11.46 runs an over in that phase in IPL 2022, but came away with no such acquisitions. Ben Stokes was thoroughly fought for and prised away at 16.25 Cr and Kyle Jamieson was bagged at 1 Cr, but neither are notable for death-bowling pedigree.

CSK also snapped up Ajinkya Rahane at a time when his T20 stature is dwindling at best. He could yet serve as a smart back-up option for Ambati Rayudu in the top-order.

Squad: MS Dhoni, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Devon Conway, Moeen Ali, Subhranshu Senapati, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Dwaine Pretorius, Mitchell Santner, Maheesh Theekshana, Prashant Solanki, Deepak Chahar, Mukesh Choudhary, Simarjeet Singh, Tushar Deshpande, Matheesha Pathirana, Ben Stokes, Sisanda Magala, Ajinkya Rahane, Shaik Rasheed, Nishant Sindhu, Ajay Mandal, Bhagath Varma

Player to watch: Maheesh Theekshana

The Sri Lankan, with his offspin and deceptive, fast carrom balls, will enjoy life at Chepauk and offer Dhoni the control he yearns for with the ball. He has already shown a glimpse of how good he can be in last year’s IPL, and picked seven wickets in as many games in the SA20 this year. While wickets in the PowerPlay have been the wily spinner’s biggest strength, he also doubles up as a death bowler – a department that CSK are incredibly thin in.

Injuries and availability:

Jamieson was ruled out due to stress fractures to his back that needed surgery. CSK brought in South Africa’s Sisanda Magala, who incidentally solves the problem that the team couldn’t address in the auction – death bowling. Additionally, Magala can also swing for the fences with conviction lower down the order.

Among other misses, there’s uncertainty over when left-arm pacer Mukesh Choudhary will be available to feature. He is currently at the NCA in Bangalore undergoing rehabilitation for a back injury. CSK will also be without Maheesh Theekshana and Matheesha Pathirana for their first three games of the season, as they’re away in New Zealand fulfilling national team commitment until April 8.

Possible XI and potential Impact Player tactic: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube, MS Dhoni, Deepak Chahar, Sisanda Magala, Simarjeet Singh/Mukesh Choudhary, Maheesh Theekshana

With Deepak Chahar only coming back from his long injury layoff and Simarjeet Singh being in just his second season, CSK could look to use the impact player rule to add bowling cushion. Tushar Deshpande comes with loads of domestic experience, and could be brought on from the bench. The impressive U19 star Rajvardhan Hangargekar, who is yet to make his CSK debut, is an all round option who could work as a substitute too. Against right-hander heavy sides, CSK could pack in an extra spinner, particularly at Chepauk, with leggie Prashant Solanki.

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