Shashwat Kumar witnessed yet another Chennai Super Kings defeat in Mumbai – a loss that left them marooned at the bottom of the table, making their fans wonder if the good times will ever return.
Prior to the 2022 iteration, it was largely assumed that CSK – one of the favourites, as always – would qualify for the playoffs. They’ve done so every time they have participated [barring the forgettable 2020 edition]. Even when MS Dhoni, rather dramatically, handed over the reins to Ravindra Jadeja, many felt the Super Kings would recover sufficiently and continue their stellar record.
So far, though, their challenge has fallen flat on its face. They’ve lost all their games and have looked a pale shadow of their competitive self, except for the close game against the Lucknow Super Giants. Stephen Fleming, their head coach, also looked twitchy post their most recent defeat. When quizzed about what had been going wrong, he said that CSK needed to improve their batting, bowling and fielding. A simple but elusive solution this season.
During their title-winning season in 2021, almost every player knew what was expected of him. This season, Ruturaj Gaikwad, last year’s Orange Cap holder, has barely been able to buy a run. Moeen Ali has scored some runs but lacked rhythm. Faf du Plessis, their batting behemoth last season, is currently captaining the RCB, and this edition seems to be a step too far for a rusty Ambati Rayudu. CSK have been so lacklustre that Dhoni and Shivam Dube – players who weren’t expected to do the heavy lifting – have been two of their most prolific run-scorers.
With their batting floundering, their bowling was expected to at least stand up. In Deepak Chahar’s absence, however, they’ve looked toothless in the powerplay and have often had to play catch up in the middle overs. Ravindra Jadeja hasn’t been penetrative enough. Their fast bowlers, apart from Dwaine Pretorius and Dwayne Bravo, haven’t held their own frequently either. Their fielding, too, has been ordinary, at best.
Simply put, CSK are a team currently in disorder. Not just because the points table says so, or it’s only the second time in their history that they’ve lost four games on the bounce, but also because a turnaround – often CSK’s forte – seems farther than it has ever looked. But there is a spin to this story as well.
The last time the defending champions lost four matches in a row was in 2010. Dhoni was captain then and he was at the peak of his powers. Suresh Raina was arguably the best batter in the IPL, and their Indian contingent was good as any in the league. More importantly, though, self-belief was permeating through their camp. During that season, they found themselves in sticky situations quite regularly. But they never flinched. They believed that they could overcome adverse circumstances and the crescendo was attained at Dharamshala against the Kings XI Punjab, with Dhoni playing possibly the most crucial innings in the franchise’s history to qualify for the semis.
In 2022, Dhoni is nowhere close to scaling the peaks he did back then. Raina is no longer around. Gaikwad can be a matchwinner but his form has uncharacteristically deserted him. They don’t have a potent bowling attack as well. Their self-belief, in Fleming’s words, has also taken a hit. So, cricketing logic and wisdom suggest that CSK have already run their race in IPL 2022. Their fans, though, might just disagree.
At each game, the CSK faithful have overpowered their opposite set of fans. Whenever Dhoni has walked out to bat, it has been met with rapturous applause. Loud cheers have also been reserved for Gaikwad, Jadeja and Moeen, with Bravo’s celebrations also being a source of joy. In fact, their fans have been in such a boisterous mood that you could have easily mistaken CSK for a side that has won all its games this season.
It’s almost as if they know that CSK will inevitably skip to the good part soon – a part where they rediscover their all-conquering selves and dominate the IPL. That, however, looks very far away at the moment. Not just because of where their team is at, but also because of the performances they have put together so far. With a new skipper at the helm, it is pretty tough to break out of such a rut too. But if any team can, it is probably CSK.
Post a similar debacle in 2020, Dhoni famously quipped that they would come back strong. He said that that was what they were known for, meaning that their fans and the rest of the IPL aren’t writing them off just yet. It doesn’t make much cricketing sense, considering all that has happened in the 2022 edition so far. With CSK, though, it hardly ever does.