The Indian Premier League (IPL), 2009 will kick off in exactly a month's time. The lead up to one of the most anticipated and publicised events in India, has been fraught with doubts, rumours and security concerns.
The IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi has however cleared the air on security and scheduling issues. So, I guess we're all set for the IPL, finally.
The Chennai Super Kings: A Bunch of Winners
The Chennai Super Kings (CSK), lead by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, had a fantastic run in IPL 2008. The team has been very aptly named because each player is a king -- there is no one king.
In cricketing parlance, Team CSK is made up of a bunch of winners, and they do not look up to one or two players to take them through.
Here's a very telling statistic. CSK's top five batsmen have scored 300 runs less than the top five in the Rajasthan Royals (RR), the reigning IPL champions. Here’s another telling fact: the top five batsmen does not include Matthew Hayden or Michael Hussey as they did not play many matches.
Likewise, the top five bowlers have captured 21 fewer wickets than their RR counterparts.
Here's a look at what makes the CSK tick, what their weaknesses are and what they'll need to watch out for.
þ The King of Indian Cricket, the CSK captain MSD: Captain Cool has brought together some Australian and South African superstars and some Indians and led the team with great maturity and skill. The credit goes to him for bringing out the best from a team that missed its biggest stars, Haydos and Huss, for much of the competition.
þ The Dependable Consigliere: In Suresh Raina, MSD has a very dependable batsman who can adjust his game to the needs of the situation. He was the top scorer for CSK with 421 runs at 38 and an outstanding strike rate of 143, next only to Albie Morkel. With the form Raina is currently in, he is surely going to send some balls into orbit. Bowlers, watch out!
þ The Return of the Jedi: Haydos, the warrior, will be back for a full season. With him having retired from international cricket, the CSK will now have a lot of fire power at the top of the innings.
þ Enter Captain Flint: Fearless Freddie will join the CSK army with the tag of the most expensive player in the IPL at a price of USD 1.55 million. He will play a pivotal role in the CSK’s success with his fine all-round abilities.
There aren’t many here. The openers, Stephen Fleming and Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan, did not provide good starts last time though Parthiv Patel was impressive at times.
But this time around, Hayden should be there for the whole series. Along with Patel, he should provide some strong starts.
The bowling line-up does not boast of big names apart from Murali and Ntini. Gony had an impressive season last timer where he was the leading wicket-taker for the CSK. However, Laxmipathy Balaji and Joginder Sharma were very expensive.
The attack, thus, does not have a lot of depth and when under pressure, it vulnerable to break up. Having said that, lot of credit should be given to the captain MSD who has done a fantastic job managing with such an attack.
This season throws open opportunities to plenty of local talent. Here are a few guys to watch out for.
Ravichandran Ashwin: The Tamil Nadu all-rounder is coming off a great Ranji (first class) season with 24 wickets and 229 runs at an average of 38. He also scored a crucial unbeaten 100 against Railways. He can be effective with his off spinners and his big-hitting can come in handy as well.
Abhinav Mukund: The Tamil Nadu opener was the highest run getter for his side in the recent Ranji season scoring 856 runs at a stupendous average of 86. The 19-year-old southpaw has been a prolific run scorer in the domestic circuits for the past few years. He did not get much of a chance to play last season.
If he does get a few chances, he’ll surely make people sit up and take notice.
Anirudha Srikkanth: Much like his famous father Krish Srikkanth, Ani is an attacking opener who plays with reckless abandon. He has powerful hooks and pulls in his repertoire making him an ideal Twenty20 player.
He was a key player in the Tamil Nadu team that lifted the T20 National Championship in 2007. He was the fourth highest run getter then which prompted the selectors to pick him in the Indian probables’ list for T20 World Cup in South Africa. One can expect fireworks when he’s batting.
The biggest threat for the CSK, and indeed the IPL, is the threat to players’ security against acts of terrorism. After the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, international players are starting to have doubts on whether to tour India or not.
The Ashes 2009 may force Flintoff to skip the IPL and prepare for that big series. While there have not been any official news regarding this, it seems like a good possibility. In such an event, team CSK will surely miss the services of the talented all-rounder.
THE KEY PLAYERS
M S Dhoni (C, Wk)
Parthiv Patel (Wk)
Albie Morkel and Jacob Oram are the other superstar all-rounders in the team. Oram is getting back to his best with the ball in the present series against India at home. Albie had a fantastic ODI series with the bat, Down Under.
They will be key elements in the CSK’s plans.
Murali, the maximum-wicket taker in ODIs and Tests, will play a crucial role in controlling the run rate. The Sri Lankan wizard did not taste much success in terms of wickets but was quite economical. He’ll look to make amends.
Besides Freddie, the other newcomers are the Sri Lankan all-rounder Thilan Thushara and George Bailey, a middle order batsman from Tasmania.
Former New Zealand captain and opener for the CSK last season, Stephen Fleming will replace Kepler Wessels as the coach.
The Chennai Super Kings will host the Bangalore Royal Challengers in their first match. A contest that could potential spark some brilliant fireworks is Kevin Pietersen against Andrew Flintoff.
Will MSD be able to add yet another feather to his cap? Can team CSK cross the final hurdle? They certainly have the talent to do that.
They have a balanced team which does not rely on few big players. They are a close-knit team and back each other up. Their ground fielding is outstanding.
Last but certainly not the least; they have a talismanic captain who is presently taking Team India to dizzying heights.
The stage is set. Let the games begin!