In sport, uncontrollables play a major role in determining the fortunes of an individual or team. Cricket is no stranger to that, nor is the Indian Premier League. Plenty of times in the IPL, teams have been without their key players – either for a few matches or an entire season – for a variety of reasons, or they’ve had to play at different venues. This year, it’s Chennai Super Kings’ turn to be hit by the bug. With two victories on the trot, the two-time former IPL champions have started their comeback season with a bang and while they would like the pattern to continue, certain factors are conspiring to pull them back in their march on return after their two-year hiatus.
Close on the heels of Kedar Jadhav being ruled out of the tournament due to a hamstring injury, Suresh Raina picked up a calf problem that will likely keep him out of action for two matches. Even as Faf du Plessis was heading close to full fitness, recovering after a gruelling home season in South Africa, his teammate Lungi Ngidi had to fly back following the desmie of his father. Amidst injury concerns, CSK have also been denied the chance of making Chepauk their fortress, as was the case in their glory days, again. The security concerns in Chennai forced a shift in venue for CSK’s remaining six home games, which they now will have to play in Pune – one that could hinder their plans given the team they picked during the auction, mostly based on conditions in Chennai.
“There’s obviously been a lot going on,” said CSK head coach Stephen Fleming on the eve of their game against Kings XI Punjab on Saturday (April 14). “I guess the positive is we’ve had two wins in two. They haven’t been great performances, but they have been good character, scraping and fighting wins, which sometimes at the start of the tournament is more valuable. Yet, disappointed to be leaving Chennai. We sat in the auction to pick a team that was based on conditions and Chennai and we’re disappointed that we only got one home game. We were pleased to have had that one home game, and had a win, but that was going to be a big part of our strategy this year.
“But we have to adjust. We got injuries as well, other teams have got injuries but a couple of injuries to key Indian batsmen is again a challenge. But that’s a part of the IPL. We just need to keep scraping and if that’s going to be the quality of this side then I’ll be very proud of that. It’s keeping us on our toes, there’s certainly something happening everyday,” said Fleming.
Having been the coach of Rising Pune Supergiant, a team that also had the likes of MS Dhoni, Imran Tahir, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar in the ranks, Fleming and Co. would have a fair amount knowledge of how the venue works for them and other nuances involving the MCA stadium. While Fleming sees a couple of positives on that front, the loss of Chennai as a venue is still playing large on his mind.
“There is experience of being in Pune the last two years, that is a positive. Whether the Pune pitch is the same as what it was 12 months earlier, we’ll have to wait and see when we get there. We know the characteristics of the ground, which is again a positive. Does it replace Chepauk? No, it doesn’t. But we’ll get up to speed with guys, get them used to the subtleties of the ground as quick as we can. We have guys who’ve bowled there – Shardul [Thakur], [Deepak] Chahar and [Imran] Tahir, which is important. We’ll always try and find some positives and those are a couple,” he said.
Apart from the shift in base, CSK’s challenge also lies in identifying the efficiency of the team structure to overcome the loss of personnel. They will have to go through the combiatrics again and possibly rethink strategies, especially with the absence of Raina (for a match or two) and Jadhav. Thankfully for them, the experienced Murali Vijay has regained his fitness and they also have the talented Dhruv Shorey to count upon, although any one of these choices would come at the expense of doing away with their opening combination of Shane Watson and Ambati Rayudu, which served the team well.
“We can’t replace him (Raina), he’s one of the best performing players in the IPL and the highest run-scorer in the history (of the league). So we can’t replace him, we just got to find a way to minimise his loss. We’ve got good players in our set-up – Dhruv Shorey, Murali Vijay who’s played here last year. So there’s guys here with points to prove, with international experience, and if they get the chance they’ll do their best what Suresh Raina can do. (This is) an opportunity for someone else but you’d like to get someone like Suresh Raina back into your side as quick as possible. The blessing is we’ve got another four days in between and there might be a chance that he could be fit for the next game but we won’t rush him.