What’s happening to the Chennai Super Kings? They are lurching from crisis to another, and that isn’t ideal preparation for the Indian Premier League starting on September 19.
A buoyant CSK team landed in Dubai on August 21, and after that nothing has gone right for them. Barely days into the mandatory quarantine, they were jolted by the news of COVID-19 infections to two players and 11 support staff. That was followed by the dramatic departure of star batsman Suresh Raina. If that wasn’t enough, former India off-spinner Harbajan Singh too has opted to stay away.
The coronavirus wasn’t a problem as the affected players and staff recovered swiftly. But the absence of two experienced players will hurt the Chennai-based franchise. Raina is the second most successful batsmen in the league, behind Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli. His consistency and brisk scoring have been integral to the success of Chennai Super Kings.
While Raina has always been a part of the Yellow brigade, Harbajan was acquired in the runup to the 2018 season. The off-spinner’s best days may be behind him, but his accuracy helps choke the scoring, and he can score some quick runs late in the order. He’s been a proven matchwinner in the shortest format of the game.
The positive coronavirus tests and the absence of Raina and Harbajan, are they linked? It would seem so. When players cite personal reasons for their opting out, there’s no room for argument. That has to be respected. After all, they are human. They too worry, especially when they have young families. Which has been the case with Raina and Harbajan.
Did COVID-19 influence decisions?
The inescapable fact is that the COVID-19 situation would have influenced their decisions. Even if the personal matters could be resolved, the corona scare would have persuaded them to stay away. Can’t blame them.
Yet, I feel their fears are misplaced. The players are in a secure bio-bubble. Since they don’t interact with anyone outside the bubble, the chances of contracting the virus are very slim. Each player bears the responsibility to keep the bubble secure. True an irresponsible action could jeopardise the tournament, as Kohi warned a week back. So there must be safeguards in place to prevent a breach.
Lack of interaction outside the bio-bubble can be stifling. Quarantines can make you feel claustrophobic. Ask Ravichandran Ashwin. The Delhi Capitals off-spinner, on Twitter, called it one of the worst times of his life. That’s all true. It will affect the players. But again, I can’t help but quote Kohli. “We are here to play cricket,” he said. The RCB captain is spot on. If there are no quarantines and bio-bubbles, there’s no cricket now.
When Mahendra Singh Dhoni holds the reins, why would Chennai worry? His ice-cool temperament can soothe jangled nerves. His unflagging self-belief can inspire confidence.
Cricket should be the priority for every player. All else can wait. For, these are not normal times. These are COVIDian times. The players could draw strength from the way footballers responded to the call of the English Premier League and Champions League. So also the players who turned up to complete the National Basketball Association (NBA) matches in North America.
Will this double whammy wrought by the absence of Raina and Harbajan impact the Chennai Super Kings? No, not really. I would back them to make the playoffs. They have the depth of talent and wealth of experience to make light of these body blows and focus on the matches ahead. CSK have qualified for the playoffs every time they have competed, and they will make it this year too.
When setbacks roil a team, it can easily affect their morale. A crisis of confidence leads to grave mistakes, and it becomes harder to pick up the pieces after defeats. It can reduce strong teams to quivering wrecks. That’s when you need a strong captain.
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When Mahendra Singh Dhoni holds the reins, why would Chennai worry? His ice-cool temperament can soothe jangled nerves. His unflagging self-belief can inspire confidence. When the sea is raging, when the waters are choppy, there is no safer pair hands on the rudder than Dhoni’s.
Listen to the words of CEO Kasi Viswanathan and team owner N. Srinivasan. Viswanathan says CSK are ready for the opener. Srinivasan says if Dhoni is calm despite the issue, there’s no reason for him to worry. Their statements underscore their belief in Dhoni and his team.
CSK will surely make the playoffs, and the playoffs are anybody’s game. It will need the strength of character to progress. Chennai have shown plenty of that in the past. And that’s made them three-time champions.