Players are often what you make of them.
CSK faced intense criticism for picking Shane Watson at the auction. The seemingly over-the-hill 36-year-old former Australia all-rounder had floundered for Royal Challengers Bangalore last season and many thought he was past his sell-by date.
But then, CSK and M.S. Dhoni comprehended the powerfully built Watson’s value. The Aussie still had it in him to knock the cover off the ball. He could attack the pacemen with the cut and the pull, essay the big drives down the ground, bludgeon the ball over mid-wicket for the maximum.
Here was a big match player who had to be given the time and the space to construct an innings and then launch into the bowling. Dhoni got Watson to open and the Aussie’s brutal onslaught on the Sunrisers Hyderabad attack in the final underlined the success of the ploy.
Watson rollicked his way to two hundreds in the season. Crucially, one of them arrived in the summit clash.
Tactically, CSK got many things right in its triumphant campaign. Dhoni, gradually, built a dynamic, flexible side that possessed a key ingredient – balance.
The employment of Ambati Rayudu as a floater in the order was again a master-stroke by Dhoni. The little batsman is not short of ability but is a confidence player. By giving him responsibility and an assured spot in the eleven, Dhoni also worked on the mind of Raydu.
When Rayudu fired, CSK found another match-winner. The trick was in the mind.
One of the challenges before Dhoni this season was to manage the attack. The depth in pace bowling reserves was a major area of concern for CSK and the side gradually plugged the holes.
Deepak Chahar's, again Dhoni showed belief in him, emergence as a swing bowler with control added weight to the CSK bowling.
Then, Lungi Ngidi, the young, explosive paceman from South Africa, was used brilliantly by Dhoni, both at the beginning and the end overs of the innings.
Finally, even as Dwayne Bravo went for runs in the second half of the competition, CSK found in Ngidi, a bowler it could rely upon in the death overs.
Dhoni was did not shy away from tough selection calls. The experienced off-spipper Harbhajan Singh was left out of the final and leg-spinner Karn Sharma was included in the eleven.
Karn made a difference by getting the in-form Kane Williamson stumped.
And he backed cricketers in whom he had faith even when they went through a rough patch. Ravindra Jadeja, who eventually came good, was a case in point.
The skipper’s field placements – the manner he narrowed down the angles and created opportunities – were brilliant. He had to get it right in an ageing side with not many fast movers.
Dhoni’s management of overs was spot on. And then his batting – the manner he expanded his game on the off-side – of often breathtaking.
The side found match-winners, whether it was Dhoni himself, Watson, Bravo, Faf du Plessis, or Sam Billings.
Forced to play its home matches away from home, CSK was home and dry in the end.
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