The Chennai Super Kings franchise has long been associated with glory and success when it comes to the Indian Premier League, having won the championship three times and never failing to make the playoffs in 12 years. Spearheaded by the calm and composed Mahendra Singh Dhoni, they have always been a force to reckon with and more often than not, showcased their never say die attitude that has seen them on the winning side of fiercely fought battles. It is this high standard that the Super Kings have been held to that has made their performance in the 13th edition all the more surprising and in this analysis and season review, we aim to dive deeper into their campaign and identify their key points from the 2020 edition of the tournament.
The men in yellow had their struggles from the start, losing Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh even before the commencement of the IPL. The former had been a mainstay in the batting lineup and his tally of 5368 runs is the second-highest in the tournament’s history while the latter is no stranger to the tournament, having won it four times himself, the latest coming with the Chennai side in 2018. The Super Kings, however, still had a wealth of experience and despite such big losses, were expected to put up a good fight this year. After all, on multiple occasions, they had shown that when thrown into the deep end, they could very well swim and swim well. Eyebrows were raised and questions were asked though, and these were swiftly put to bed with a five-wicket win against the Mumbai Indians in the opening fixture of the tournament. However, you can only paper over the cracks for so long and in the ensuing games, the Chennai side was heavily exposed.
Dhoni’s men went on to lose three on the trot, failing to chase down the scores set by the Rajasthan Royals, Delhi Capitals and the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Chasing had always been a strong suit of the Super Kings, especially with Dhoni in the side, but in these three fixtures, the batting had looked fragile. The opening partnership of Murali Vijay and Shane Watson failed to click, with Faf du Plessis at number three being promoted after his good performances early on. Ambati Rayudu missed a couple of games after being adjudged Man of the Match in the opening fixture and his replacement in Ruturaj Gaikwad scored just five runs in the two games.
With Kedar Jadhav struggling to score at pace and Dhoni looking far from his best, the only bright sparks in the middle order were Sam Curran and Ravindra Jadeja. Curran was proving to be an excellent buy and with good performances with the ball and some cameos with the bat, had shown that he deserved a regular spot in the eleven. Jadeja had also come alive with the bat, smashing a half-century against the Sunrisers and finding the middle more often than the others. There was not much batting beyond them, however, but with a 10 wicket win against the Kings XI Punjab to follow, it looked like the Chennai side of old were finally back. It proved though to be nothing more than a flash in the pan.
A monumental collapse against the Kolkata Knight Riders saw the Super Kings fail to chase a target of 168 despite looking certain to win at 99/1 at the end of the 12th over. It was yet another middle-order collapse and there was more of the same against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in their next game. Narayan Jagadeesan had replaced the poorly performing Jadhav and despite his fighting 33 in 28 balls alongside Rayudu (42 in 40 balls) to form a 64 run partnership for the third wicket, the Super Kings fell well short of Bangalore’s total. A side accustomed to chasing and tasked with doing so in each of their opening seven games, it would not have pleased Stephen Fleming and the coaching staff that they had won just two of them.
A massive turnaround was needed and while things got off on the right foot in the second half of the season with a win against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, three losses on the bounce once again meant that they were almost certainly heading out early. The third of those defeats against the Mumbai Indians was perhaps their worst game of the season, having been reduced to 24/5 in the powerplay and despite a fighting knock from Sam Curran to take them to 114/9, they were picked apart by Quinton de Kock and Ishan Kishan, losing by 10 wickets in the 13th over.
Three good wins followed and that meant that the Super Kings were not at the bottom of the table but having been the first team to be knocked out in a season where the battle for the playoffs was closer than ever, it was nothing more than a consolation. The Chennai side was left to rue what may have been and they were just two wins behind the Delhi Capitals in second, which would have surely rubbed salt in the wound. Nevertheless, some impressive performances from the likes of Gaikwad in the last few fixtures shone a light at the end of the tunnel and the Super Kings could take some positives going into the next season. In the following sections, we will focus specifically on the batting and bowling performance of the Chennai Super Kings through their IPL campaign.
In the above visualisation, we compare the batting average of the eight teams in the IPL in the different stages. We immediately see that the Super Kings had the fourth-lowest batting average in the powerplay with 28.52. Their average is well behind the Mumbai Indians’ 39.75 in fourth place and one ahead of them. The opening stand for the Super Kings was a major issue and they tried a variety of combinations, starting out with Watson and Vijay. With the latter not performing, du Plessis then combined with Watson but despite their impressive partnership in the 10 wicket win against Punjab, there was not much else that came off it. Curran was then promoted up the order alongside du Plessis, pushing Watson to number three and though this provided some aggressiveness at the top, it often led to the falling of wickets early. Finally, Gaikwad opened with du Plessis and with him scoring three consecutive fifties, it was a welcome solution to the top order problem albeit a late one.
Despite their poor middle order, the Super Kings have the highest average in the middle overs with 42.36, ahead of Delhi (37.39) in second. However, we should remember that while the runs per wicket in the middle overs seems good, the batsmen were unable to score quickly enough to help the side chase down their targets or to help them reach a good enough total. The slow scoring in the middle overs meant that there was too much left to do in the death and here we see the Super Kings have an average of 27.50. While this is the second-highest average among the teams, the poor foundation in the powerplay and middle overs mean that the game was already too far away for the Chennai side to win as was seen in their defeats against the Royals and the Sunrisers earlier in the season. To put these averages into perspective, we will also take a look at their run rates in these stages.
Once again we see the Super Kings’ poor powerplay performance, scoring at just 7.131 runs an over, the second-lowest among the teams. Combined with their low average as well, it highlights the fragile top order of the Chennai side and despite their improved performances towards the end, over the season it remained poor. The same goes for their middle-order batting as well, with the side scoring at just 7.397 runs per over in this stage. Once again it is the second-lowest and despite their strong average, it reiterates the point that the batsmen were unable to score fast enough to push their side to victory. Chasing for the most part of their season, having such a slow run rate in the middle overs can only be detrimental to a side’s chances and this was certainly the case for the Super Kings.
While the side did do much better in the death overs, scoring at 10.233 runs per over, the game was often beyond them at this point as we mentioned before. However, a good performance in the death overs is always a good sign for a side and should the Super Kings manage to improve their batting in the earlier stages, they would be better poised to push for more wins in the next season. Even with Dhoni not firing on all cylinders, the likes of Curran and Jadeja took the responsibility of accelerating in these latter stages and these are promising points that the Super Kings should certainly look to build upon.
Batting hits and misses
Looking at the batting performances for the Super Kings, we see du Plessis top the run-scoring charts for them with 449 runs this season. The South African played well early on and was one of the few consistent performers through the early defeats. With a strong average of 40.81 and a strike rate of 140.8, he was a crucial part of this batting lineup especially in the tumultuous times this season. His form did peter out later on in the tournament but nevertheless, he finished 90 runs ahead of Rayudu in second. Rayudu was another player with some good performances averaging 39.88 at a strike rate of 127.3 and in a poor batting side, was a much-needed performer.
Next is Watson who finished on 299 and apart from a couple of impressive knocks, did not have much to show this season, averaging just 29.90 at a strike rate of 121.1. What is impressive is Jadeja’s presence higher up this list and the all-rounder scored 232 runs at an average of 46.40 at a stunning strike rate of 171.9. His performance was one of the few positives for the Chennai side this season alongside Gaikwad, who turned up rather late to the party. After a poor first two matches, Gaikwad proved his worth with three consecutive fifties, a first in the history of the franchise and ended the season with 204 runs at an average of 51. Curran had a handy season as well, scoring 186 runs and showing his versatility by batting both at the top and in the middle order. The Englishman was often tasked with providing some much-needed explosiveness and with an average of 23.25 along with a strike rate of 131.9, surely carried out his duties well.
The clear misses this season, however, are Dhoni and Jadhav. The Super Kings captain went a whole season without scoring a half-century for the first time in his career, despite his top score being an unbeaten 47. Dhoni did score more than Curran as well but with just a slightly better average of 25 and a poor strike rate of 116.3. His performances with the bat this season were well below the standard that he has set in previous years and fans would be hoping that their skipper performs better next season as he reaches the last few years of his career. Jadhav, on the other hand, came under a lot of fire early on for his dismal performances, scoring just 62 runs at an average of 26 and a poor strike rate 93.9. He was subsequently replaced by Jagadeesan who only managed to bat in two games, scoring 33 in one but walking back without scoring in the other. He did manage to score more than Vijay, however, who had been given the chance to open in the earlier games. With a poor average of just 10.66 and a strike rate of 74.4, it is however easy to see why Vijay was soon left out of the playing eleven. The likes of Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur, Dwayne Bravo and Imran Tahir hardly had much to do with the bat and we will look at their performances with the ball instead in the next section.
Looking at the Super Kings’ bowling average in the different stages of the game, we see that they have the second-highest average in the powerplay. Chahar had been a key performer with the new ball in the previous seasons but this time, struggled to pick up wickets early on. Though he was supported by the likes of Curran, Josh Hazlewood and Lungi Ngidi, the men in yellow were not able to make use of any swing early on to pick up useful wickets in the powerplay. The bowling in the middle overs was much better though, with the Super Kings averaging 33.9 runs per wicket in this stage. We have seen how Dhoni turns to his spinners to pile the pressure in these early stages but despite their performances not being up to the mark this year, they still fare with a pretty decent average.
In the death overs, however, the Chennai side feature closer to the back, averaging 22.07 runs per wicket. While this is not a bad return, the likes of Delhi, Mumbai and Punjab all averaged around 18, nearly four runs lesser. Some poor death bowling saw the Super Kings concede 30 runs in the last over against Rajasthan early on and performances like that surely made it harder for the side to push for victory.
Once again we shall look at the economy to put things into perspective and here we see that the Super Kings’ economy in the powerplay is in fact second best. Although not picking up wickets in this stage, an economy of 7.476 in the powerplay does make for good reading and shows that the bowlers were able to put the pressure on in the opening stages. The franchise would be looking to build upon this for the coming season and to find a way to convert this early pressure into wickets in order to give them a better chance in their games. In fact, looking at their economy of 7.97 in the middle overs, the Super Kings fare third from bottom and this could be due to their lack of early wickets as well.
Allowing the opponent’s openers to settle in against the new ball then means that the opposition is well set to take control of the middle overs and this is exactly what happened with the Super Kings this season. Despite a fairly decent average, the opposition often found themselves with plenty of wickets in hand and could afford to take a risk in the middle overs to make up for their slower starts leading to a higher economy. As we mentioned before, the spinners did not have particularly good seasons and were prone to leaking runs in the middle overs. The leg spinners in Piyush Chawla and Karn Sharma were largely ineffective and though Tahir was much better, he did not receive much playing time owing to the foreigner quota.
What makes it worse for the Super Kings is their economy of 10.621 at the death as well. The third highest economy at this stage, Dhoni’s side struggled to take control of the death overs and even with the likes of Bravo and Ngidi in the side, were often hit for plenty. Thakur and Curran performed much better in the death overs but they had off days as well and were easily dispatched for boundaries in the final few overs. Death bowling is an important aspect of T20 cricket and a lack of good bowling at the death would surely worry the franchise. It is also clear that apart from the powerplay, the Super Kings’ bowling unit was largely ineffective and combined with poor batting displays it was a recipe for disaster.
Bowling hits and misses
Curran was the standout performer in terms of wickets, leading the pack with his 13 scalps. With the second-best average and strike rate of 26.46 and 19.38 respectively along with an economy of 8.19, the Englishman proved to be a valuable asset for the Super Kings and was one of the stars of the season, performing with bat and ball. Chahar, despite fewer breakthroughs in the powerplay this season, still finished second with 12 wickets. He would, however, have been expected to provide more wickets for the side and his bowling average of 33.00 and strike rate of 26.00 does feature on the higher side. Economy wise he was excellent though, conceding just 7.61 runs an over and showing his abilities with the swinging ball once again.
Thakur and Ngidi follow with 10 and nine wickets respectively, though the latter played much lesser games. Thakur had a decent season with some handy performances and has proved that he is a useful bowler to have, with an economy of 8.50 and a strike rate of 19.40. His average of 27.50 is one of the better ones in the team as well. Ngidi on the other hand had a mixed season, going for runs but having a knack of taking wickets. His economy of 10.43 is the highest in the squad but at the same time, his average of 18.55 and strike rate of 10.66 is well ahead of his teammates. His expensive bowling, however, cost him his place in the team and he would have to work on that in order to fight for a regular spot in the eleven.
Jadeja, Bravo and Chawla were clear misses, each picking six wickets with Chawla being the most expensive of the three. The leg-spinner was brought in for this season and the Super Kings would have hoped for more of an impact from the experienced campaigner. Bravo also had an injury-hampered season and was unable to contribute substantially for the side. Jadeja has always been Dhoni’s go-to man to restrict the opposition and pick up wickets but his numbers with the bat this season surely better that of his bowling. Sharma was not useful either, picking up just five wickets in the games that he played and falling among the more expensive bowlers in the side. Spin had so often won games for the Super Kings but with the poor attack this season, not much praise could be heaped on them if any.
As for the three foreigners of Hazlewood, Mitchell Santner and Tahir, they hardly featured for the Super Kings but picked up four wickets among them and had the best economy of the bowlers, albeit with smaller sample size. In a side that required the likes of Curran and du Plessis to remain in the eleven to provide support with the bat, competition for the foreigner spots was always going to be difficult and even with Tahir winning the purple cap last season, he could not make it into the eleven this time. However, with some good performances, the trio has surely given the franchise some reason to hold onto them going into the next season.
Very rarely do we see the Chennai Super Kings struggle with both their batting and their bowling and that is what makes their season all the more unbelievable. For a side that has always managed to bail themselves out of tough situations, their string of improved performances at the end was too late even for them and the men in yellow would not have liked to bow out of the tournament so early. With the Mumbai Indians winning their fifth championship and repeating the Super Kings’ feat of winning consecutive seasons, there is much to do if they are to regain their title of being the most successful franchise.
However, with Watson retiring at the end of the season and most of the key players set to follow suit in the next few years, the Super Kings should be looking to revamp their side to form a solid core of youngsters. Curran, Gaikwad and Chahar have shown that they have what it takes and their individual seasons gives the franchise something to look forward to going into the next season. Dhoni’s confirmation that he would be staying for next season would also have brought smiles to the faces of fans but with the captain in his twilight years, he would want to win a trophy before calling the curtains on his stellar career. As we know, the Chennai Super Kings can never be kept quiet for long, so expect the franchise to be back in the hunt and roaring next season.