If the 2000s was a decade when we Indians felt we had arrived as a nation on the world stage, the Indian Premier League was the latest show of that stature – and if there was a team that represented this modern India, it was the Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
CSK was one of the few teams built with a lot of thought behind it, nor were they saddled with a marquee player – luckily for them, MS Dhoni did not hail from any of the big cities in the league, so the franchise went for broke during the auctions and got Dhoni as their captain.
By luck or by foresight, they also got Stephen Fleming as a player, who went on to become their successful coach.
Dhoni and Fleming built CSK brick by brick with a lot of thought and money. Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, Ravi Ashwin and other Indian youngsters flowered under their leadership and became stars. These core Indian players formed the bedrock on which the foreign stars elevated the franchise to an IPL dynasty.
Dhoni and Fleming’s success formula had two other key elements: make Chepauk a fortress by building a team that is tailor-made for the spinning conditions, and have enough depth to win a few away games.
After failing in the initial years of the league, other teams like Mumbai and Kolkata learnt from Chennai and transformed their fortunes.
From 2008 until 2019 (barring the two-year ban), CSK made every playoff, won the title three times and made it to the finals eight times in total – the most successful franchise in the IPL’s short history.
However, in the pandemic-affected 2020 season, CSK has looked a shadow of that once-dominant team, stopped by negative forces that were building up within the team and by better-prepared opponents.
The season started with many of their players and staff getting affected by COVID, then Raina left the camp due to some differences with management, while many players turned up cold, down on fitness and match readiness – unlike the standards the Dhoni-Fleming combination set.
Then there is the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the ageing players.
Even in 2018-19, CSK was called ‘Dad’s Army’, but they seemed to take it as a compliment. Nevertheless, Father Time comes at some point.
Dhoni is well past his prime, while Kedar Jadhav, Piyush Chawla and others have an unmistakable stench of staleness. Fleming has defended their failures by pointing out that the change of IPL venue to UAE has played around with their usual strategy of the Chepauk fortress plus a few away wins. However, the team did well in the IPL a few years back when political trouble at Chepauk forced CSK to play their home games outside Chennai.
We have seen enough instances in sports of hugely successful players stay on beyond their expiry date, only to be knocked down publicly by youth and the list of youngsters shining in this year’s tournament suggests Fleming has stuck to his ‘daddies’ for one season too many.
The old guard have done their job commendably over the past 12 years but it is time to bring in the new.
In short, CSK had no buzz coming into the tournament and have no exciting players in their ranks to take the opponents by surprise. Their batting has lacked depth, their bowling has no threat and they have fielded poorly – Jadeja dropped a catch, would you believe it?
The Chennai story of IPL 2020 is that it’s a year to learn from and renew.