Chennai Super Kings will launch its bid for a record fourth IPL title (winner — 2010, 2011, 2018) when it takes on the Royal Challengers Bangalore at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on March 23.
Among the extravagant buys at last year’s auction, what had raised eyebrows was CSK’s affinity for players above the age of 30. The average age of the squad, at the end of day one of the auction, was 33.5. Dhoni (36), Suresh Raina (31), Faf du Plessis (33) and Dwayne Bravo (34) formed the crux of the unit with Ravindra Jadeja being the only player below 30.
And yet, Shane Watson, 36 at the time, came to the fore with an unbeaten century in the final against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The Dhoni-led squad will once again bank on the experience of its Indian and international stars to make an instant impact.
The batting depth, aptly demonstrated by Watson, du Plessis and Raina at the top, and Dhoni, Bravo and Kedar Jadhav in the lower-middle order, props up a side which has blown hot and cold on the bowling front.
In Bravo, CSK has one of the best exponents of death bowling and coupled with left-arm spinner Jadeja’s unerring accuracy, the duo can strangle opposition batsmen. South African pace sensation, Lungi Ngidi — he had the second best economy rate (6) last season — will be a handful with the new ball.
However, its Indian seam bowling options look thin with Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur the only go-to bowlers for Dhoni apart from K. M. Asif who played just two matches in 2018.
Harbhajan Singh will once again spearhead the spin department alongside South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir. The two had an average outing in 2018 and have a point to prove.
With the World Cup in England just a couple of months away, how Dhoni, Jadhav and Rayudu perform will have a bearing on the larger picture. Rayudu was the highest run-scorer for CSK in the 11th edition, having amassed 602 runs at a strike-rate of 149.75.
Jadhav, on the other hand, featured in just one match and was out for the entire competition owing to a hamstring injury. The team management ought to keep a close eye on the injury-prone middle-order batsman.
Raina, too, had suffered an injury in the early part of the campaign and was out for 10 days. His ability to farm the strike and up the ante has held the side in good stead.
Dhoni's struggles in T20Is do not seem to have affected his IPL form. The wicket-keeper batsman, who blasted 455 runs at 150.66, will be the defending champion’s trump card.
CSK’s return to the IPL last year was dampened, partly, when its six home matches had to be shifted out of Chennai. The Men in Yellow, however, will be hoping to please their large army of fans by lifting the silverware one more time.