With an average age of 33.4 years, the Chennai Super Kings team that won the second qualifier against Delhi Capitals on Friday may be the oldest ever to reach an IPL final. It probably validates the moniker ‘Dads’ Army’ but it doesn’t throw enough light on the work gone in making this bunch of veterans tick every match.
As of now, Chennai are on top of this one. But the first casualty has been fielding. Among the four teams to have made it to the playoffs, Chennai Super Kings have the third best net run rate despite spinners Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja sharing 55 wickets with an overall economy of less than seven. It means CSK haven’t fielded well.
From the fitness perspective, spinners probably have it easier. Ask Shane Warne or Rangana Herath who have played after turning 40. Whatever Tahir or Singh lacked in agility, they more than made up with their miserly economies and handsome returns. Batsmen have it tougher. Shane Watson began his IPL career under Warne’s stewardship as a promising all-rounder who could open both the bowling and batting. He hasn’t bowled a single over this season. In the early part of his career, Suresh Raina used to be a part-time spinner as well. He has bowled just six deliveries over the past two seasons. MS Dhoni too has had to tweak his game.
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And since Dhoni, Raina and Watson featured in the first IPL final in 2008, it could be worth looking into as to how they have adapted to stay relevant to the demands of the format even after 11 years. Watson’s has been the most dramatic change. Plagued with injuries throughout his career, ranging from stress fractures in the back to hamstring and calf niggles, Watson suffered a lot due to his earlier gym regimen that had contributed to his broad physique. His performance tapered after 2013 but improved after joining Chennai in 2018.
He bowled just 28 overs in 2018 without much returns but scored 555 runs to reinstate faith in him. This season the brief has been simpler: open the batting and flex those big muscles to clear the infield as much as possible. He has flourished as a result, scoring 318 runs so far, including a reassuring fifty in the all-important second qualifier against Delhi.
Once known to clear boundaries with ease, Raina too has had to adapt. He remains equally prolific but now focuses on hitting boundaries than clearing them. Raina’s worst season was in 2015 when he scored 374 runs with the help of 31 boundaries and 16 sixes. This season, he has hit 45 boundaries and nine sixes in 375 runs scored so far. Dhoni’s change has been the most gradual. A big proponent of taking chases into the last over, Dhoni often ran more singles and twos than boundaries few seasons back. Now, he is taking more risks early on without compromising on his running.
As opposed to 2016 — his worst season as batsman — where he scored 284 runs in 14 matches with the help of 18 boundaries and 14 sixes, he has already hit 22 boundaries and 23 sixes from the same number of matches this season. All this points to how Chennai’s most valued players have adopted a slow and steady approach despite the stress on youth and exuberance. And in this long race called the IPL, that is all that matters.
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