INDIAN PREMIER LEAGUE 2018
Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni have delivered immensely in CSK’s rise this comeback season. © BCCI
It was quite clear why Chennai Super Kings badly wanted Kedar Jadhav in their side when they went all out for him in the IPL auction earlier this year. The time had arrived to look for a new finisher with MS Dhoni’s powers waning and Dwayne Bravo appearing to have lost his touch with the bat in recent years. And with Ravindra Jadeja being promised a bigger batting role ahead of the season, Jadhav emerged to be the missing link in CSK’s jigsaw, especially after his exploits for India in recent times.
But as fate would have it, their plans went up in smoke on the first day of the tournament when it was confirmed that Jadhav would no longer play in this edition owing to a hamstring injury he picked up while sealing a dramatic win for his new franchise against their arch-rivals, Mumbai Indians. Back to square one. When Super Kings crumbled against debutant Mayank Markande before recovering via a Bravo special, questions were raised about their efficiency going forward.
A little overthree weeks laterthough, Super Kings find themselves on top of the tree having stacked up 12 points from a potential 16. More than the number of wins, it’s the manner of those victories that have been more impressive. No team has scored as many runs in the final five oversas CSKthis IPL. Whether it’s chasing as they showed against MI, Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore or batting first as they showcasedon Monday (April 30) night, the finish has been nothing short of extraordinary.
So what exactly has changed? Bravo has not delivered with the bat after his MI heroics and Jadeja’s role yet to be clearly defined. Billings too has gone into oblivion after his fireworks at Chepauk. It’s the awakening of Dhoni and the resurgence of Ambati Rayudu that has been the key to CSK’s success.
The 28-ball 25 against the Knight Riders has certainly brought about a huge change in Dhoni’s approach. He has been no longer tentative against the spinners early on. He has been no longer indecisive. He is willing to take a chance very early in his innings to get things going and he isn’t afraid of failing. With his brutality against both pace and spin on display, he seems to have rolled back the years. In fact, he is striking them at almost 170, something he has never done in the IPL before. The skipper has enjoyed some fruitful seasons with the bat during his prime years but this is quickly coming through as one of his best.
And then there is Rayudu. At the start of the tournament, he didn’t feature in everyone’s first choice playing XI for CSK, and understandably so. But here he is as the Orange Cap holder with 370 runs already at an average of 46 and a strike rate of 156. Rayudu has never had a more productive season than this since featuring in the IPL for the first time in 2010. To further shatter the perceptions around him, the tournament is only halfway through. And unlike the previous proud winners of the Orange Cap, the 32-year-old is doing his job to perfection, both as an opener and at number four.
Rayudu has not just been reliable this season, he also hasn’t been fussed about the prospect of moving up and down the order. Every team craves for a floater who can deliver in different positions and it is no aberration that CSK’s team balance and flexibility has been boosted mightily with Rayudu putting his hand up with incredible consistency.
“The flexibility that Rayudu has had has really impressed me,” du Plessis said after CSK’s 13-run win over Delhi Daredevilswhere Rayudu contributed with a 24-ball 41. “I think that ability to come in at 4 and 5,and score boundaries straightawaynot a lot of people can do that, some people need to take a bit of time and get their eye in where he can put you under pressure. So with Suresh (Raina) at 3 and him at 4, you know if we get off to solid starts, the two of them can just come in and play their natural game which is very dangerous for oppositions. Purely the way Rayudu has been batting in the middle I think it’s a massive skill so if it was up to me I would make sure I use Rayudu’s form at number four.”
The number four slot is one of the important positions in limited-overs cricket. While India continue to have a revolving door policy with respect to that position in ODI cricket, in the IPL, Rohit Sharma has highlighted the importance of having a reliable player at that position in MI. While du Plessis has always been effective at the top of the order in T20 cricket and with Shane Watson in blazing form alongside Raina who is growing in confidence, it is imperative that CSK have an in-form man at number four. And with Dhoni at five, this seems to be the best ‘top five’ for CSK.
The Rayudu-Dhoni combo has already delivered twice this season. On Monday, they added 79 runs in just six oversto pile more misery on the Daredevils. On current form, there isn’t a better duo for finishing duties in the IPL and with both featuring in the top five run-getters this season, the opposition are already wary and making special plans to counter their effectiveness.
They say in football, the role of a ‘double pivot’ in midfield is key to a side’s success. They allow the attackers to thrive and can pose a threat themselves when needed. In Rayudu and Dhoni, CSK have discovered their ‘double pivot’, that allows the top order to thrive with freedom before they step up to their role. With Jadeja and Bravo struggling to put their best show on display, the Rayudu-Dhoni pair is central to CSK’s title charge this comeback season.