The Fairy Tale Return Of The Chennai Super Kings
The stocks reached a new high, the TRPs jumped to a new pinnacle and the crowd, as usual, went berserk as the biggest T20 league in the world welcomed back its most consistent franchise: the Chennai Super Kings. IPL 2018 almost had its original eight teams together again and so many things were replicated from the inaugural season in 2008. Gautam Gambhir’s return to Delhi, Yuvraj Singh’s return to Punjab, Shane Warne’s association with Rajasthan Royals and yes, MS Dhoni’s return as captain to the Chennai side.
All of this made it an IPL worth watching and something to talk about for next two months. The stage was all set for an altogether fairy tale comeback for the men in yellow as soon as the auctions were held in Bengaluru.
It was probably the most closely contested IPL of all time with all the teams quite balanced and they all had strong squads on paper. There were so many big names as well as youngsters who were ready to put their blood, sweat and what not on the field for their respective teams.
Coming to the point, CSK are always known for retaining their core in the auctions and this year was no different. While doing it CSK became team of relatively aged players having an average age of 33. Trust was shown by the team management lead by coach Stephen Fleming and company.
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T20 is hailed as a game for youngsters, so this CSK team was written off by most of the experts. They had a captain who was removed from his position by his previous franchise (Rising Pune Supergiants), Shane Watson who was questioning himself after a horrid last season with the Royal Challengers Bangalore and player like Faf du Plessis who is not known as T20 specialist. But as we have seen in the past time and again, as many times as you question Dhoni, he will prove you wrong as many times.
Coming to their first match, after three long years, against none other than their arch-rivals Mumbai Indians: the only team which had the upper hand over them over before their suspension and had beaten them in 2015 final just before they got banned for two years. You can’t expect a better season opener than a Chennai vs Mumbai clash. It’s the El-Classico of IPL, the fiercest rivalry which it proved to be in this match.
Chasing 166 CSK were trapped by a young unknown leg-spinner Mayank Markande. At one stage CSK required 47 runs in 18 balls with two wickets in hand. When it looked like the game was done and dusted, Dwayne Bravo had different plans as he played one of finest innings of his IPL career. To say how great the innings was, Bravo hit Jasprit Bumrah for three sixes in an over and it was first time when Bumrah conceded more than two sixes in an over. Dhoni said he was thinking about the quantum of loss and then suddenly they won. It energized the whole team to another level.
The second match was also special in itself as CSK were playing at Chepauk after almost three long years and two IPL seasons. Usually when we say great atmosphere we imagine a packed stadium but it was nothing like that. There were protestors outside, half the stands were not allowed to be seated but still the atmosphere was intense and that is what we call special.
The yellow army of fans, deprived for far too long and Dhoni and co., did not disappoint. Kolkata Knight Riders posted a huge total of 203 and while chasing Dhoni was struggling with a slow strike rate against quality spinners like Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla, which was worrisome for the team and for the fans for the upcoming matches too. However, they then found a new hero in Sam Billings who took Chennai home out of nowhere. This knock from Billings was long due since his debut innings for the Delhi Daredevils in the 2016 season. At the end of the match some protesters threw shoes and water bottles on the ground. A picture of Faf Du Plessis (who wasn’t playing in this match) carrying a shoe thrown at him went viral.
In their next match Chennai were brutally hit by a Gayle-storm in Mohali. But the fans looked a bit happy and satisfied despite ending up on the losing side, because the form of Dhoni which had everyone in splits.
A vintage Dhoni almost took CSK home single handedly with a steady as well as typically destructive 79*(44). At one stage CSK required 55 runs off the last 18 balls and ended up losing by just four runs. In the matches that followed, Chennai kept winning comprehensively with Watson, Dhoni, Rayudu and Raina cashing in at crucial times.
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Ambati Rayudu was in form of his life and was highly consistent throughout in the league matches and his two best innings in this IPL also came against a top quality bowling side Sunrisers Hyderabad including a hundred. As a result of that, Rayudu got a well deserved India call-up. MS Dhoni kept smashing everything thrown at him and had his best IPL ever runs wise. His healthy strike rate and some blitzkriegs in the death overs were a treat to watch especially his 51*(22) against Delhi daredevils where he took Trent Boult and Avesh Khan to the cleaners. Chennai remained in top two in the points table for most of the time despite playing half of their matches at their adopted home ground Pune, Courtesy a highly consistent and experienced top class batting line up and a decent bowling attack well lead by Deepak Chahar and Lungi Ngidi in the latter half of the tournament.
In the few matches they lost in between Dhoni talked about the process and the areas they need to work on. Even in the post-match talks of matches they won, Dhoni emphasised more on process than just getting carried away with the results. That’s what put him ahead of other leaders to be honest. After interviewing Dhoni, Sanjay Manjarekar suggested in a tweet that he felt like he was talking to the losing captain but not the winning captain because Dhoni kept talking about the process.
One thing what Dhoni did better than the other team leaders that he tried almost all his options way earlier in the tournament. He tried the pace sensation KM Asif, Faf got few matches, David Wiley, Lungi Ngidi, Mark Wood and also the young Delhi batsman Dhruv Shorey. So that he could know what will be his best eleven at the business end of the tournament. This problem was seen with teams like RCB, MI and KXIP. RCB opted for Moeen Ali way too late in the tournament. Mumbai didn’t provide a single game to Rahul Chahar and Adam Milne despite investing in them at auctions. Somewhere it might have hurt them. Dhoni even found a batsman in Deepak Chahar before going to the playoff stage and that was another boost to the strongest batting line up in the tournament.
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After finishing with a comprehensive win over KXIP, CSK faced SRH in Qualifier-I with their opponents having a world-class bowling line up. Chasing a relatively small total of 140 at one stage CSK were stranded at 66 for the loss of six wickets after 13 overs being bowled all thanks to quick and fiery spells from Sid Kaul and the dangerous Rashid Khan. But when SRH thought it was their game, Faf Du Plessis came to the rescue.
He played a miraculous innings of 67*(42) and single-handedly took CSK home with a little help from a cameo of 15 (5) by Shardul Thakur. Following the story of CSK this season someone must have seen a new hero coming, from collecting a shoe at the Chepauk, now it was time for Faf to collect the Man of the Match trophy. As Dhoni mentioned post-match, that’s where experience comes to play. Indeed, it does. It was CSK’s third victory over SRH in three matches, only to face them again in the finals for the fourth time.
The final was a repeat of the same fixture. Invited to bat first, SRH posted a decent total of 178 in the final at Wankhede. Some good bowling by Ngidi and Shardul in the last few overs helped CSK to stop SRH below 180. But still, keeping in mind the kind of a bowling attack SRH possessed it was more than a decent total, courtesy orange cap holder Kane Williamson and the veteran Yusuf Pathan. Not to forget it was Pathan who spoiled CSK’s party in 2008 final; CSK fans would have had their hearts in their mouths seeing him perform again.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar started with a bang by bowling the first over as a maiden. After another two tight over the pressure was totally on CSK and well of course on Watson who hadn’t opened his account yet and played ten dot balls straight away. Commentators were advising him to either hit out or get out. But then, again, that’s where experience comes into play. A player of Watson’s calibre can make up for all the dot balls in just one good over.
Watson didn’t panic and got to run a ball and then unleashed himself like the brute he is. Supported well by Raina at the other end, who himself also is dynamic in T20 finals, Watson changed the course of the match in Sandeep Sharma’s 14th over by hitting him for 27 runs. Now the only thing remaining was Watson’s well deserved hundred and a comfortable finish to the match which was well taken care of by Rayudu and Watson. Time and time again, Watson again proved that he has to be one of Australia’s finest white ball players. And boy did he!
Lead by the ‘Champion‘ DJ Bravo, CSK players stormed into the ground and there began the celebrations of a fairy tale comeback tournament victory after getting suspended for two years. The players deserved it, the fans deserved it and the whole team management deserved it. The team which was called dad’s army in the beginning proved that they really were the real daddies. The ever cool and calm, MS Dhoni acknowledged the crowd with a thumbs-up and a smile. That’s the way to do it. isn’t it?
After collecting the trophy, Dhoni, like he always does, handed it over to the youngsters and started playing with his most prized trophy ever, yes you guessed it right, with his daughter Ziva and this was the most eye-catching scene amidst all the celebrations. With three IPL titles in just nine seasons and a hundred percent playoff qualifying record CSK proved that they are the most consistent and probably the greatest team in history of T20 cricket.
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