Experienced CSK stitch pieces together to ace winning formula
More than an hour after Chennai Super Kings’ historic win in the Indian Premier League 2018, even as the organising committee celebrated the completion of another IPL by throwing confetti on each other and indulging in other silly shenanigans, the players were all still bunched up in the dressing room celebrating their success.
Matthew Hayden, part of earlier CSK teams and now IPL commentator, sought out CSK players for congratulations and selfies. The crowd, or whatever was left of it, was still bouncing. Yet, this was a celebration that would’ve felt much different. This came as the culmination of CSK’s turnaround. Two years in the wilderness to the top of the world. A vindication of their fans’ faith, their players’ belief. A tribute to two years of watching talismanic stars turn up for other teams, wondering how it would’ve been if your team was still around. To two years of being on the receiving end of incessant trolling and multiple potshots, to everyone’s patience during two years of nothingness.
CSK were one of the first teams to create a legacy through their players. They did not have an icon player from the region, but the city took to Dhoni, Raina and co. like their own. The team too reciprocated the love it got from the fans, and maybe that was why they could rally around each other during an emotional return and subsequent triumph.
It takes something special for a team to just climb out of the depths and bring itself to the very top. The ignominy of a two-year suspension from the IPL is not something teams can easily shake off their back. Let alone use that to strengthen yourself through that and transform yourself into a winning team.
CSK did just that. They retained their core when they were back in the fray. It did not matter that MS Dhoni was not the same player he was, but he was still Thala for CSK. Raina, too, was Chinna Thala. They retained Ravindra Jadeja and got back Dwayne Bravo, Murali Vijay and Faf du Plessis. It was the core that had had the most impact, and resonated most with its current emotions.
They also got in Harbhajan Singh, Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson and Imran Tahir among others. They too were made part of CSK’s larger cause. Harbhajan took to tweeting in Tamil, so did Tahir. Rayudu, Watson and Billings made their performances talk too. Even when they returned, hardship stuck to them. They got just the one game in Chennai before protests in the city had them taking Pune as an adopted home. Despite all this, CSK made their now signature comeback.
“I think we dealt with a lot of adversity really calmly and that comes with leadership,” said CSK coach Stephan Fleming after the win on Sunday (May 27). “I will admit moving from Chennai had quite an impact given when we sat at the auction table picking a team to play in Chennai conditions. We had to scramble through the year to try and find a combination. We made more changes to the team that we usually would. We suddenly became a seaming based side with a little bit of spin. It is quite a bit of turnaround when you place your strategy to be a slow team with good players of spin.
“I am really proud how we adapted to that. I am proud how different individuals stood up at key times, think we’ve talked about that through the tournament. I am proud the way experienced players showed their value, not in a smart way, but in a way that’s validated our faith in them. We believe experience coming back into the competition was going to be a key component. There were lot of emotions in the franchise for what had happened, and a lot of desire and the best people to deal with that expectation are people who’ve dealt with that before. That was a lot of reasoning behind this team. Yeah we got some criticism for it, but we believe that was our best way of winning.”
Belief in their own systems is what has gotten CSK the success they currently enjoy. They were derided for over-relying on aged players, but it was the experience of Watson, Dhoni, du Plessis and the likes that won them many games. Rayudu was a question mark in a strong middle order, but he proved his worth at the top. When Deepak Chahar and Harbhajan Singh went up the order against a rampaging KXIP attack, they were mocked, yet it turned out to be a master stroke, a nayi soch if you will.
“If you weigh up every team, the expectation of winning would be high. There was emotion involved just around wanting to do well and get back into the competition. It was difficult two years for the franchise, no doubt about it. The desire to get back and do well in the competition was high. But the players were always motivated, it was just a case of harnessing that emotion and making sure our performances and the team itself was sustainable to keep wining throughout. It’s a tough competition. It’s the toughest year it’s been. The teams are getting smarter with who they pick. The auctions are getting competitive and there’s much more grasp of who franchises want as a player. So this was a tough one. And again, we valued experience for consistency. Guys who could repetitively do it, not just one-offs because we found that the guys who get on a roll – the Rayudus, the Watsons, the Dhonis, the Rainas – they take you deep in the tournament.”
MS Dhoni, a day before the final, said he was very happy that his team could at least play one game in front of its adoring fans in Chennai. It’s emotions such as these that CSK were able to harness into a winning formula for the team. They maximised this by picking players who had character.
“It’s a lot of things that go along with it – communication is a big one, and defining roles and giving players clear directions as to what we expect from them. Buying them in the first place, buying them with real purpose. Buying character. Rayudu is a good example. I felt there was more to get from Rayudu. Again he was up and down the orders and in and out of teams. He had the skill sets and it’s something I valued over time. So I wanted him in my side and to slot him in somewhere, and MS was open about batting him top of the order which was successful, also in the middle order. Kedar Jadhav is another who was flexible, but who we lost, another hurdle we overcame together. But it’s just putting a lot of pieces together. It’s a lot of respect, it’s the way we treat our players. And lot of communication as well. It is not rocket science, but looking after little things and making sure that every player in the squad is clear on where they are going for the two months.”
It’s a combination of all the things that brought CSK its glory, and its fans unbridled joy. Just as the CSK team finished its celebration in the dressing room, it was met by a mob of fans inside and outside the stadium. Bravo had some of them dancing to his songs, but just as the bus left, the fans ran behind the bus, full tilt. They couldn’t get enough of this CSK team. After such a comeback, who can?