Post the auctions - Chennai Super Kings

Have CSK plugged all the gaps through their new buys? Probably not. But their smart choices at the auction and trading window have brought back a lot of whistles.

IPL 2021 mini auction was a good opportunity to plug some holes for the teams ahead of the mega event. With Chennai Super Kings (CSK), we have come to expect a top 4 finish every season. But IPL 2020 was a stain in their otherwise spotless record. Will the big buys, Moeen Ali and Krishnappa Gowtham get them back to winning ways? Let me start by looking at what their major areas of concern were in the 2020 edition. I will then look at the new buys through that lens.

Wickets with the new ball:

CSK bowled first in 10 out of their 14 games in the 2020 edition. The conditions in UAE during the initial overs were often helpful for the seamers. Despite this, CSK had little to show in the wickets column in the power play. With some rough math, every wicket in the IPL power play reduces the innings total by 14 runs. That's how important striking early with the ball is.

As illustrated here, CSK averaged a little over 1 wicket during the first 6 overs. Contrast that with title winners, Mumbai, who averaged a tad below 2 wickets.

A peek into CSK's own history in the tournament show why this is a problem. After their comeback in 2018, Deepak Chahar's ability to move the new ball ensured CSK averaged 1.6 wickets in the first 6 overs. But Chahar's indifferent form came back to bite them in the 2020 edition. Wickets were hard to come by, so hard that they had their leanest power play performance in their history. Their returns in the power play was 23% lesser than the tournament average this edition.

The numbers indicate the % difference between CSK’s and league’s wickets in the power play. In 2019, they picked up 34 % wickets higher than the tournament average. While in 2020, CSK picked up 23.4% wickets less than league average in power play.
Have CSK plugged this hole?

They haven't plugged this hole by buying a fast bowler at the auction. With the acquisition of K.Gowtham and Robin Uthappa, they have shored up their local strength. This should allow them to play Lungi Ngidi or Josh Hazlewood if the conditions demand. But the onus still lies on Deepak Chahar to replicate his 2019 success.

Spinners going for plenty in the middle overs:

Between overs 7 and 15, Dhoni relies heavily on his spinners to apply a stranglehold on the run flow. This has been the template of their success in the IPL. But, the IPL 2020 edition was a departure from the norm. The spinners went at over 8 runs an over in that middle phase in the last edition. Contrast that with 2019, where they gave away little over run a ball.

It is no secret that spinners like to see their fast bowling companions to take a couple of early wickets. This makes it so much more easier for them to apply the brakes on the run flow. To be fair to CSK, they would have liked Harbhajan Singh's right arm off-break to complement Jadeja. But, the stalwart had to opt out of the 2020 edition at the last minute. In his absence, Dhoni did not have anyone who can turn the ball into the right handers.


Have CSK resolved this with their new buys?

Moeen Ali and Krishnappa Gowtham provide Dhoni his favorite option, 'finger spinners'. But Gowtham's IPL history suggests he might not be the answer to this particular problem. The 8 overs he bowled in the 2020 edition produced 84 runs.

Moeen Ali for all the flak he gets for being expensive in the longest format of the game has better numbers in IPL. He has an economy of 7.13 in his IPL career, making him a more promising candidate.

Don't expect Moeen and Gowtham to take IPL 2021 by storm with their off-spin. But both of them will offer the right arm off-spin variety that this attack lacked in 2020. And at Chepauk with Dhoni at the helm, it can be quite a handful as we have found out with Raina’s part time off-spin.

CSK could also consider playing the Chennai born 24 year old, Sai Kishore as a front line spinner. Kishore had an impressive outing in the last two editions of Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament. He was miserly, conceding less than 5 runs an over. Sai also topped the bowlers chart with most wickets in the 2019 edition. And he is not shy of bowling in the power play too as he showed throughout the tournament.

Getting a move on with the bat:

There is a school of thought that says, 'preserve wickets and go for broke in the death'. CSK did the first part very well. They lost very few wickets during the middle overs. In fact, with 0.71 wickets on average between overs 11 and 15, CSK lost the least wickets in this phase of all the teams.

This preservation of wickets in the middle overs should have led to some carnage in the death overs. But CSK failed to capitalize on their solid foundation. They could manage only about the same runs as the tournament average for death overs.

The numbers indicate the difference in runs scored between CSK and IPL 2020 average in various phases of the game. On average, in death overs CSK could manage just 0.02 runs more than league average.

As much as Dhoni and co. tried to force the pace, they were not finding the stands. Rustiness due to lack of game time before the IPL might have contributed to this problem.

Does CSK have an answer to this problem?

For starters, Moeen Ali's addition means CSK have 3 left handed big hitters in their ranks. While Moeen bats lower down the order for England, he bats right at the top in the Vitality Blast. Opening for Worcestershire, he had an impressive strike rate of 170 in the 2019 edition. Moeen gives CSK the flexibility to send in Curran and Jadeja at different stages of the game to force the pace.

Gowtham adds the right hander variety to the left hand dominated power in CSK. Coming lower down the order, he will add meat to this CSK batting unit with his big hitting ability. CSK will hope Gowtham replicates his 2018 IPL season where he was striking at a rate of just under 200.

Have CSK plugged all the gaps through their new buys? Probably not. But by strengthening their Indian core, they have paved the way for greater flexibility in team selection. Their smart choices at the auction and trading window have brought back the whistles.

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