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Batsmen's lack of game-time big challenge for CSK

New Delhi, April 7 (IANS) The 2020 season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) could have marked the end of an era for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) as they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in their history. They struggled to get any momentum throughout the season and were one of the first teams to fall out of contention in a league stage that went down to the last week of matches.

However, CSK did not hit the panic button and made wholesale changes to their team. They added a few new faces while sticking to their core of captain MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo, Ambati Rayudu and Imran Tahir.

An inability to score runs in the powerplay and the middle overs was one of the many factors that led to CSK’s downfall last season. While the return of Raina in the top order is a major boost, CSK could also push England all-rounder Moeen Ali, who they acquired for Rs 7 crore this year, to the top of the order along with Ruturaj Gaikwad.

Moeen’s prowess as a T20 top-order batsman has been on display a number of times in England’s T20 Blast. Gaikwad, meanwhile, scored back-to-back half centuries last season and is hence expected to continue opening the batting for CSK.

This leaves a question mark over Faf du Plessis, who was the shining light for CSK’s lacklustre batting lineup last season while also being a vital cog in the field.

Du Plessis intends to make the most out of whatever opportunities he is going to get to play T20 cricket, as evidenced by his retirement from Test cricket in February. This means that there could be a battle between Du Plessis and Moeen at the top of the order for CSK.

While the rest of the batting order is somewhat settled, the problem that would be worrying the CSK management would be the lack of game-time for some of their players. The only competitive cricket that Raina has played since the 2019 IPL was the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, in which he scored 102 runs in five matches.

Dhoni has not played any cricket since last year’s IPL while Ravindra Jadeja has not played since injuring his thumb during India’s tour of Australia in January. Sam Curran is the only player in the CSK middle-order who has been playing regular cricket this year.

The presence of Moeen gives CSK another spin bowling option to go with Imran Tahir. Bravo remains potent in the death overs, having done so for West Indies against Sri Lanka in their recent home T20I series while Curran would also slot in. Shardul Thakur has been one of the Indian players who took international cricket by storm and would be a potent weapon in the CSK bowling line-up.

Batting coach Michael Hussey said the fact that CSK are starting their campaign at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai will help the three-time champions.

“The conditions at Wankhede are generally very good for both batmen and bowlers, so hopefully we can start well and players can feel good about their game. A good start would be nice because the players will then relax and hopefully play their best cricket with confidence. Otherwise, the pressure can build up on everyone involved,” said the former Australia batsman.

“Moeen is an excellent all-rounder, Robin has a lot of experience and has been a quality performer in the past and Gowtham has some genuine talent that we can look to develop further,” said Hussey.

Full squad: MS Dhoni (Captain/wicketkeeper), Suresh Raina, Narayan Jagadeesan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, KM Asif, Karn Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Deepak Chahar, Faf du Plessis, Shardul Thakur, Mitchell Santner, Dwayne Bravo, Lungi Ngidi, Sam Curran, Ravindra Jadeja, Imran Tahir, Robin Uthappa, Moeen Ali, K Gowtham, Cheteshwar Pujara, M.Harisankar Reddy, K.Bhagath Varma, C Hari Nishaanth, R Sai Kishore

Coaching Staff: Stephen Fleming (head coach), Mike Hussey (batting coach), L Balaji (bowling coach), Eric Simons (bowling consultant), Rajiv Kumar (fielding coach)

Quote on the 2021 season:

I feel we have a very balanced squad that has most bases covered and with depth in most areas. The guys are in really good spirits and have been and are preparing extremely well — Michael Hussey, CSK batting coach



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