Chennai stars like Shane Watson, MS Dhoni and Ravinder Jadeja look to return early from UAE after they failed to qualify for the Indian T20 League playoffs for the first time in the history of the tournament. Losing eight of their 14 league games, the three-time title winners have endured an unusual Indian T20 League season that has otherwise been kind to them on most occasions.
Though MS Dhoni should have anticipated few things going south for his team this season, given how the year 2020 has panned out, the 2011 World Cup-winning captain couldn’t have envisioned such a turnaround in fortune for Chennai.
From the Indian T20 League being shifted out of the country to star players leaving the training camp before the league began, Chennai had already approached the tournament as a handicap. But, little did they know that their misfortunes didn’t end here. Here is everything that worked in Chennai’s favour this season and the things that didn’t.
The Young blood
Since taking charge of the Chennai side back in 2008 as their captain, MS Dhoni had hardly put his bet on the young and vibrant blood to lead his side to titles. While many teams tried that approach and got limited success, Dhoni’s calculative mind always preferred matured players who understood his vision and trusted the process in the long run. From Dwayne Bravo to Ravichandran Ashwin to Suresh Raina, Chennai’s heroes have always been veterans whose seemingly slow reflexes always got the job done.
Hence, a confident Dhoni became over-reliant on the aged likes of Shane Watson, Faf de Plessis, Ambati Rayudu and Kedar Jadhav when Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh left the training camp. While most of the warriors in his “daddy army” faltered, including Dhoni himself, it was the youngsters who showed grit in an otherwise forgettable season.
While 22-year-old Ruturaj Gaikwad got only six matches to prove his quality – where he tallied 204 with an average of 51 – England’s Sam Curran ended up being Chennai’s best player of the season. Curran averaged 23.25 coming late into the batting line-up and scalped 13 wickets in 14 games as well. Chennai will require a total overhaul next season with Shane Watson announcing his retirement and Raina’s future seemingly uncertain at the moment and it’s time Dhoni looked to get in more young talents.
One look at how Varun Chakravarthy, Rahul Chahar, Ravi Bishnoi and other finger spinners have performed at the Indian T20 League this season, and it can only be imagined how brilliant a guide MS Dhoni could have been if he had options apart from Ravinder Jadeja in this department. While Suresh Raina’s early departure was shocking, MD Dhoni has missed Harbhajan Singh’s contribution the most. Bhajji had all the experience and variations that the UAE pitches respected, and Chennai could have been a different beast altogether with his presence. Instead, Dhoni had to make do with medium pacers on most occasions as opponents battered the side almost at will.
Vacuum in the middle
Though openers Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis had their days with the bat, Chennai couldn’t have depended on them heavily for most of the campaign. The side failed to finish off matches on most occasions and their fledgeling middle-order was to blame for that. Raina’s absence in the line-up was further exacerbated by the inconsistent forms of Jadhav and Dhoni and the injury-plagued Dwayne Bravo. Rayudu could do only so much to anchor innings as tail-ender Jadeja ended up being his most trusted partner on numerous occasions.
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