From the agony of missing out on the playoffs for the first time in the history of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Chennai Super Kings were back to winning ways, rediscovering the form that in the past had led to three titles and multiple runner-up finishes.
CSK, who lifted the trophy in style in 2018 on comeback after a two-year hiatus, were in for a shock in the 2020 edition as captain MS Dhoni, one of the most decorated captains in the sport, failed to guide his team into the knocks for the first time ever with the Yellow Army just about avoiding the wooden spoon — which ultimately went to Rajasthan Royals.
This year, however, Chennai have marched on with authority as thanks to some inspired buys along with valuable contributions from key personnel, the side have registered five wins from seven games to sit pretty at the second spot on the IPL 2021 points table.
With 14 points against their name along with a solid Net Run Rate of +1.263, the team finds itself in an excellent position to make it to the last four this year. What they will, however, hope for is the gap of more than four months between the two legs of this year’s IPL will not lead to a loss of momentum on their part, and that they are able to pick up from where they left off in May.
The league had to be suspended earlier this year after a breach in the bio-secure bubble that forced the BCCI to suspend the tournament, and later shift it along with the T20 World Cup to the United Arab Emirates.
With the second half of IPL 2021 set to resume with CSK taking on defending champions Mumbai Indians (MI) on 19 September, let us revisit their campaign so far, one match at a time:
CSK vs DC, 10 April — Lost
Things didn’t quite go as per plan at the start of their campaign as Chennai Super Kings started off with a six-wicket defeat at the hands of last year’s runners-up Delhi Capitals. Put in to bat by the Rishabh Pant-led side, Chennai recovered from a shaky start thanks to vital contributions from the middle and lower order to post a competitive 188/7 on the board, with batting stalwart Suresh Raina top-scoring with 54 in his return to the franchise after sitting out of the 2020 campaign.
Delhi, however, were ruthless in their chase as the opening combination of Prithvi Shaw (72) and Shikhar Dhawan (85), who produced a 138-run stand between them, was enough to seal the game in their favour.
CSK vs PBKS, 16 April — Won
After the defeat at the hands of the Delhi Capitals, Chennai were back on track the following game against Punjab Kings as they collected their first points of the season with a six-wicket victory.
Dhoni opted to field after winning the toss, and the Chennai bowlers were on top from the very outset of the Punjab innings. Powerplay specialist Deepak Chahar was especially ruthless as he tore through the Punjab top-order to collect a Player of the Match-winning haul of 4/13.
Punjab could never quite recover from their shock, as they finished on a meagre total of 106/8, crossing the three-figure mark thanks to a late contribution from Shahrukh Khan (47). Faf du Plessis (36 not out) and Moeen Ali (46) nearly sealed the game by themselves with their 66-run second wicket stand and despite a late stutter, CSK romped to victory with nearly five overs to spare.
CSK vs RR, 19 April — Won
Chennai’s domination continued in the next game as well as Dhoni and Co produced an all-round effort to hammer the Sanju Samson-led Rajasthan Royals by 45 runs to collect their second win of the season.
Nearly every member of the batting lineup, from opener Faf du Plessis (33) to No 8 all-rounder Dwayne Bravo (20) chipped in with contributions as CSK finished with yet another 188-run total on the board after the Delhi game.
Unlike the Capitals, the Royals batsmen weren’t quite as effective against the Chennai attack as barring a resilient 49 from Jos Buttler, and a brief resistance put up by Rahul Tewatia (20) and Jaydev Unadkat (24), the rest of the batting unit crumbled in the face of another disciplined effort.
CSK vs KKR, 21 April — Won
In what turned out to be the most thrilling game of the season so far, CSK survived a magnificent fightback from Kolkata Knight Riders’ lower order to walk away with their third win on the trot.
Chennai put up a massive first innings total of 220/3 thanks to a 115-run stand between openers Ruturaj Gaikwad (64) and du Plessis (95), the latter coming agonisingly close to a maiden IPL ton.
Chennai once again blew away the opposition top order, with Chahar (4/29) and Lungi Ngidi (3/28) making the new ball talk. At 31/5, it was all but over.
KKR’s middle-order trio of Dinesh (40), Andre Russell (54) and Pat Cummins (66), though had other plans as the pair lifted KKR to a position from where they could achieve what seemed like an impossible task at the end of the powerplay.
Cummins was especially ruthless as he reeled off 30 runs off Sam Curran in the 16th over of the game with three sixes, a four and a brace, keeping KKR very much in the hunt. CSK suddenly were caught napping.
Chennai though, kept their cool and a couple of good over from Shardul Thakur and Curran — the 18th and 19th overs respectively — brought the pressure back on Kolkata. Needing 20 to win in the last over, Prasidh Krishna was run out first ball as Chennai sealed a memorable 18-run win.
CSK vs RCB, 25 April — Won
After having saved themselves from the blushes in the thriller against KKR, CSK were back to their dominating ways as they thrashed Royal Challengers Bangalore by 69 runs in their fifth game of the season, collecting their fourth win on the bounce.
This time it was Ravindra Jadeja’s brilliance with both bat and ball that was the highlight of Chennai’s victory. The all-rounder dished out a brilliant 62 not out off 28 deliveries, with 37 runs coming in the last over bowled by Harshal Patel as Chennai finished on 191/4, before he spun a web around Virat Kohli and Co with a haul of 3/13.
It wasn’t a one-man show though, as South Africans du Plessis (50) and Imran Tahir (2/16) too chipped in with valuable contributions to complete another clinical day in the office for Dhoni and company.
CSK vs SRH, 28 April — Won
The ever-consistent Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) were going through one of their worst starts since their introduction to the cash-rich league in 2013, Chennai only making it worse with their seven-wicket victory in their first outing at Delhi’s Arun Jaitley Stadium after having played all their previous games in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.
While opener and captain David Warner (57) found able support from No 3 batsman Manish Pandey (61) as the pair stitched a 106-run stand between them to guide SRH to 171/3, their bowling unit failed to contain CSK’s openers Gaikwad (75) and du Plessis (56) as the pair once again came up with match-winning contributions in the form of a 129-run opening stand.
With five consecutive wins under their belt, Chennai were starting to look unstoppable at this stage of the tournament.
CSK vs MI, 1 May — Lost
Chennai’s winning run finally came to an end on 1 May at the hands of arch-rivals Mumbai Indians, who have had their number more often than not in recent years.
Defending champions Mumbai, who have a superior head-to-head record against Chennai both overall as well as in IPL finals, opted to field on what was a belter of a surface for the batsmen. Du Plessis (50) struck yet another half-century, his fourth on the bounce, while Moeen collected a lively 58.
The main contribution, however, came from Ambati Rayudu, who smashed the attack to all parts of the ground with an unbeaten 72 to help Chennai post a stiff 218/4, stitching an unbroken 102-run stand with Jadeja (22*) in eight overs for the fifth wicket.
Mumbai, in reply, found themselves in trouble after opener Quinton de Kock was dismissed for 38 off Moeen’s bowling with the side losing their third wicket with another 138 left to win from a little over 10 overs.
An in-form Kieron Pollard, however, is one of the most destructive forces on the planet and when on song, can take some of the most disciplined and well-rounded attacks apart with ease. That is what Chennai were reminded of yet again as the Trinidadian blasted six fours and eight sixes to remain unbeaten on 87 off 34.
Aided by the Pandya brothers, Pollard took Mumbai home to a four-wicket win, collecting the winning runs in the final delivery of the match as Rohit Sharma’s men continued to claw their way back from a shaky start with their fourth win in seven games.