Playoffs hopes all but over for CSK?

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That Chennai Super Kings (CSK) have endured a mixed Indian Premier League season so far would be an understatement. For large parts of the five-weeks in the UAE, the three-time champions have looked a pale, jaded shadow of themselves.

Regarded as one of the best sides in the IPL history, CSK have failed to replicate their magical form of yesteryears and have not been able to build on its reputation in this year’s tournament, losing 6 games from their 9 matches in the tournament thus far. They are languishing in the seventh position in the IPL points table and another loss will make it almost impossible for CSK to qualify for the IPL playoffs.

From here, Dhoni’s side would need to win at least four of their remaining five games to bring the net run rate in play. If Chennai Super Kings win four matches from here, they will have 14 points and have a chance to reach the playoffs. Of course, the ifs and buts apply here as well and the chance of qualifying for the IPL 2020 playoffs also depends upon the performance of other teams in the remaining tournament.

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The Chennai-based franchise are embracing one of their worst seasons in the history of the Indian Premier League (IPL), and face the prospect of not qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in their history.

The net run rate can come into play for CSK if they manage to bag 14 points from their 14 games. Last season, Sunrisers Hyderabad had made it to the top 4 with only 12 points so CSK are certainly not out of the race yet but they have a lot of catching up to do to ensure they remain in the hunt till the end.

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CSK team composition

Nothing has worked for CSK despite having the resources and that they’ve been regularly beaten comprehensively does not make a rosy picture for the team management. In MS Dhoni, they have an enigmatic leader, but even his shrewd stewardship has failed to galvanise a depleted-looking team. From the outset, they seem to lack the spark in their batting, bowling or fielding that made them a formidable unit once.

CSK

When Ravindra Jadeja, considered as one of the finest fielders in world cricket-starts giving away easy runs and drops comfortable catches, one has to wonder the level of commitment from some of the senior players. Skipper Dhoni has batted under tremendous pressure in the initial games, and the huge expectation on him and CSK make his and team’s failure look worse than it is.

Evidence of the pressure can be seen in the middle order where batsmen have been shuffled unsuccessfully. If the two left-arm allrounders Sam Curran and Ravindra Jadeja batted ahead of their captain MS Dhoni in victory in the tournament opener against the Mumbai Indians, two debutants Ruturaj Gaikwad and N Jagadeesan were unsuccessfully promoted to No. 4 in a few matches.

Kedar Jadhav anointed No. 4 by head coach Stephen Fleming, now has been dropped after a series of mediocre displays.

The brand of cricket they’ve been known to play for years and years has somewhere vanished with sedate, lacklustre displays. Even the three wins have been accounted for by individual brilliance rather than team-effort that they’re known for. The Super Kings have managed only 35 sixes in their seven matches – the fewest this IPL. Sure, the bigger boundaries in the UAE are difficult to clear, but the Super Kings haven’t been able to rotate the strike either.

CSK and the middle overs

Be it their batting or bowling, CSK have always had players who’ve been able to control the proceedings in between the two powerplays. Their batting numbers in the middle-overs make for sorry reading. In the middle overs (6-16), they have a dot-ball percentage of 33.09 and they have the second-worst run rate (7.61) behind Royal Challengers’ 7.21.

During this phase, the Super Kings have lost 13 wickets – the fewest among the eight teams – and it is this lack of intent and muddled approach that’s ailing them. This lethargy has often left Fleming animated and it has been exposed by opponents rather frequently. Most of the Super Kings batsmen are still rusty midway into the season, but they need to swiftly find a way past it and show more urgency.

In their spin-department, the Super Kings have relied on Piyush Chawla and now Karn Sharma. Imran Tahir, one of the most experienced and successful wrist-spinners has been largely under-utilised, raising a lot of eyebrows. He was also impressive in the CPL recently and can step up in the slog overs, having taken 22 wickets in 34.5 overs at an economy rate of 8.57 between overs 16 and 20 in the IPL. He finished the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League as the highest wicket-taker with 26 wickets from 17 games. But last year’s purple-cap holder is yet to get the nod this season.

CSK have just a day’s break before taking on fellow-strugglers Rajasthan Royals in Abu Dhabi on Monday. A defeat in that game could all but end both the team’s top-four chances. It’s time to stand up and be counted.

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