After their clinical demolition of the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final of IPL4, Ravichandran Ashwin of the Chennai Super Kings said that they have always strived to be the Manchester United of IPL.
There is certainly basis in his claim. Despite the stellar proportions that arise when you compare the history of the two leagues, both Chennai and the red side of Manchester have been one of the most successful and reliable teams in their respective leagues. In the four editions of the IPL gone by, Chennai have never failed to reach the semi-final/play-off stage. And everyone knows everything about Manchester. And while it is true that some of Chennai’s campaigns have been roller-coaster enough to send Doug Bollinger back into hair treatment, they have always been a tough squad to beat.
And they, like Manchester, are one of the sides which (to put it like Laxman Sivaramakrishnan) always give some of the best “Citi Moments of Success”. From Dhoni’s uppercut to his mandible after a fierce onslaught against Punjab to lead them to the semis, to Ashwin’s “Gayle of the first ball” in the final last year, they have the right to claim IPL as “namma territory”.
But this season, the squad looks far from the side that went undefeated at home last season. Sure Faf du Plessis is in stellar form and is regularly anchoring the innings from the top, but the rest of the batting line-up looks surprisingly shaky. Their bowling attack looks venom-less and friendly. There is almost no one in it who can surely be relied on.
A part of this lack-luster squad is due to unavailability of Mike Hussey and Ben Hilfenhaus, both on duty for Australia in the Caribbean. And the other major blow to them was the loss of their stalwart, Muttiah Muralitharan. Much has been said about Chennai’s success revolving around their retention of their core squad and the loss of Murali reflects that squarely.
The third reason would probably be the loss of the Midas-touch of their captain, M.S. Dhoni.
MSD’s spidey-sense, his inner-eye, his seer like instincts seems to have suddenly vanished after the last IPL. Suddenly he is being subject to criticism from all quarters for his uninspired field placements, his irresponsible batting and for poor management of his players. While the tour to England was an understandable fiasco, the trip Down Under was not supposed to be what it turned out to be. Even the most die-hard Indian fan found no words to explain what he was seeing and much blame was directed squarely on the erstwhile Charmed Captain. And given that the Chennai team is built pretty much around their captain, this does not suit well with the men behind the team.
This season is far more open than the previous editions. Even though we are less than half-way in, there is no clearly strong team (there seems to be one clearly weak team though). Every team has had good displays in all departments but the consistency is lacking – which makes for interesting scenarios but is a poor advertisement for the IPL.
Manchester United is on course for another Premier League crown this season after spending most of it behind their rivals Manchester City. It remains to be seen if Ravichandran Ashwin’s claim will be justified.