"We will come back strong. That's what we are known for," MS Dhoni had said after Chennai Super Kings' (CSK) final match last season in UAE. Having failed to qualify for the playoffs of the Indian Premier League for the first time, the intent to come back strongly was clearly visible.
Despite witnessing a dismal run in the last season, CSK will still enter the 2021 edition of the IPL as one of the favourites, given the franchise's track record on Indian soil. Not to forget the experience the side has at its disposal.
The team will step into the new season with several changes as Shane Watson retired from all forms of cricket following last year's IPL while CSK opted not to retain Harbhajan Singh. Despite the absence of these two, CSK still has surfeit experience in the squad. Also, the Dhoni-led team will see the return of Suresh Raina, who had missed the last edition of the tournament. Raina's return will bolster the team's batting line-up.
In the mini-auction, held in February, CSK went all out for all-rounder Krishnappa Gowtham. The franchise bought the player for a whopping Rs 9.25 crore, making him the most expensive uncapped Indian player at the mini-auction. Also, in the absence of Harbhajan Singh, CSK had to add an experienced spinner to the team, and the team ironed that problem out with the addition of Moeen Ali.
The team also has Sam Curran and Shardul Thakur and both of them will be brimming with confidence as they were at their best in last month's ODI series between India and England. Hence, the duo will look to continue with their recent form, heading into the IPL.
On paper, CSK's squad looks solid. However, while many players have been in action recently in some or the other tournaments, the stumbling block for the team will be the lack of game time for players like Dhoni, Jadeja, Raina. Dhoni and Raina retired from international cricket last year while Jadeja is returning from an injury setback. Given that these players form the core of the team, Dhoni, Raina and Jadeja finding rhythm as soon as possible will be the key or else it could scupper their plans.
South Africa's Faf du Plessis has also been a very consistent performer for the side. The batsman was the highest run-getter for CSK last season, amassing 449 from 13 matches. Another South African, Lungi Ngidi, will also give strength to the team with his lethal bowling. The pacer's stats in the shortest format of the game is quite impressive.
Ngidi has 28 wickets under his belt for South Africa from 16 T20I matches, with the best figures of 4/19. The same dominating performance was on display in the last edition in which he scalped nine wickets from only four matches. However, CSK will be without the service of Josh Hazlewood in the upcoming edition as the Australian pacer pulled out of the tournament earlier this month.
In the mini-auction, the franchise also picked Cheteshwar Pujara, who last played an IPL match in 2014, bringing the batsman on board for Rs 50 lakh. Moreover, Ruturaj Gaikwad earned a lot of praise after his remarkable debut in the last season of the IPL. Gaikwad fell early in the first three outings before scoring 65 not out against Royal Challengers Bangalore, 72 against Kolkata Knight Riders and 62 not out against Kings XI Punjab (renamed Punjab Kings) to sign off on a high.
But most importantly, the tournament is back on Indian soil and nothing like watching Dhoni marshal his resources on low and slow turners.
CSK squad for IPL 2021: CSK 2021 squad: MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, KM Asif, Deepak Chahar, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Narayan Jagadeesan, Karn Sharma, Lungi Ngidi, Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shardul Thakur, Sam Curran, R Sai Kishore, Robin Uthappa, Moeen Ali, Krishnappa Gowtham, Cheteshwar Pujara, C Hari Nishaanth, Harishankar Reddy, Bhagath Varma.
( With inputs from ANI )
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