Chennai Super Kings
Ruturaj Gaikwad (left) and Faf du Plessis of the Chennai Super Kings during Match 35 of the Indian Premier League against the Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on September 24, 2021. Image Credit: PTI

The revenge of the Chennai Super Kings; that’s what it feels like. Two crushing wins in the UAE have the hallmarks of a champion side. Winning is not new to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s yellow brigade; they have won the IPL three times and were beaten finalists on five occasions. So they do know about winning.

That makes me wonder what happened last year. And what changed this year? A glance at the team tells me that there were only minor tweaks. They are still the Dads Army. Shane Watson’s retirement has made way for Moeen Ali, a fine addition since the England cricketer’s off-breaks add variety to the attack besides his stroke-making ability at the No 3 slot.

Ruturaj Gaikwad is the only young blood., He made his case with some brilliant knocks last year after CSK gave him a chance when the campaign in the UAE was effectively over. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same side, with Dwayne Bravo continuing to work his late innings blitz and slow-ball trickery at the death.

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Dhoni is still their thala, or leader. He’s been marshalling his team adroitly as ever. That’s been a crucial factor. He enjoys cult status among the Whistle Podu Army, the adoring legion of CSK fans. Dhoni’s cool head in pressure situations is legendary, so is his decision-making when the going gets tough. To me, CSK players are responding better, producing their best in crunch situations. That’s the stuff of champions, which makes last year’s slump an aberration.

I’m awestruck every time I look at the CSK batting. It’s intimidating with Deepak Chahar coming in at No 10. And remember, Chahar’s batting fetched an Indian win in Sri Lanka in July after a middle-order collapse.

Strong batting need not translate into tall scores all the time. The CSK game against the Mumbai Indians in the Phase 2 opener in the UAE offers a good example. Trent Boult and Adam Milne had reduced CSK to 24/4 in 6 overs, and Ambati Rayudu had retired hurt. Young Gaikwad repaired the damage in the company of Ravindra Jadeja before Bravo’s 8-ball 23 fired them to a competitive total.

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That was enough for the bowlers to get to work. Early wickets and pressure piled, Mumbai’s new batting fragility too helped. Well, there’s the resilience of the CSK batting.

There was no such crisis against RCB. Openers Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis fired away, and every batter who followed contributed handsomely. Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming wil be pleased, especially since the playoff race is heating up. Also, remember, Sam Curran and whirlwind batting is yet to make an appearance in the UAE.

The Kolkata Knight Riders and the Delhi Capitals too have powerful batting line-ups. So I’m looking forward to CSK’s games against them. That should make for some exciting duels.