From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.23 :: Jun. 09, 2011

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COVER STORY

Celebrating the kings of IPL

A dossier of impressive performances has underlined Chennai Super Kings as the team to watch out for in Twenty20's high profile tournament that is just a notch below the ICC World T20. IPL finalist in 2008; semi-finalist in 2009; champion in 2010; champion again in 2011; Champions League champion in 2010. These are all pointers to a team in which all the parts are in sync and victories pop out as if they have been melded on a highly efficient conveyor belt, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar

AP

Led by the phlegmatic Mahendra Singh Dhoni (above, right, with Suresh Raina), who stays remarkably calm even under pressure, Chennai Super Kings has been the in-form team of the IPL ever since its inception in 2008. “I have never seen him (Dhoni) sweat under pressure,” gushed team-mate Albie Morkel.

The past few weeks had ushered in rapid changes in Chennai. Riding a wave, J. Jayalalithaa was back as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Her predecessor Karunanidhi cryptically thanked the masses for giving him ‘rest'. And the man who does the impossible in glitzy movies, Rajnikanth, was hospitalised and whisked away to Singapore for further treatment while his wife Latha stressed that he was only a normal human being.

Amidst these twists, one thing remained constant — the ability of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) to gift unalloyed joy to its die-hard fans who throng the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium and are also part of the Tamil diaspora all over the globe.

In a well-rounded campaign, rich in high fives and euphoria, CSK won the Indian Premier League title with an inevitable air on its home turf at Chepauk.

On May 28, with Tamil Nadu reeling under a week of ‘kathiri veyil' (the hottest days of the year), CSK turned on the heat against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in a lopsided final that was perhaps over when the openers, Michael Hussey (63) and Murali Vijay (95), shared a 159-run partnership off 89 deliveries.

V. GANESAN

Man of the final…Chennai Super Kings' opener Murali Vijay reserved his best for the final where he mauled Royal Challengers Bangalore.

With RCB's fortunes hinging heavily on Chris Gayle, the Bangalore team's hopes nosedived the moment the belligerent opener succumbed for a blob to off-spinner R. Ashwin. CSK won by 58 runs with its score of 205 for five being too big a target to surmount for Daniel Vettori's men. Having finished second in the league with 18 points, just behind RCB (19), the Chennai team turned the tables in the final stretch to emerge on top.

Led by the phlegmatic Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who stays remarkably calm even under pressure, CSK has been the in-form team of the IPL ever since its inception in 2008. “I have never seen him (Dhoni) sweat under pressure,” gushed team-mate Albie Morkel.

A dossier of impressive performances has underlined CSK as the team to watch out for in Twenty20's high profile tournament that is just a notch below the ICC World T20. IPL finalist in 2008; semi-finalist in 2009; champion in 2010; champion again in 2011; Champions League champion in 2010. These are all pointers to a team in which all the parts are in sync and victories pop out as if they have been melded on a highly efficient conveyor belt.

CSK's latest triumph has its roots in the manner in which the squad was forged afresh during the player auctions in Bangalore in January. Having retained Dhoni, Suresh Raina, M. Vijay and Morkel, the CSK management went all out to buy back its key players such as Hussey, S. Badrinath, Ashwin and Doug Bollinger, and the disappointment in missing out on L. Balaji and Muttiah Muralitharan was all too evident when the auction concluded. While most teams went in for a total revamp, CSK opted for its core of tried and tested players who had gladly embraced the yellow jersey and the boisterous support that ripples across the stands at the MAC Stadium. “We wanted a sense of continuity and camaraderie,” the CSK coach, Stephen Fleming, said.

With the squad well set, the champion outfit played its cards really well at home. No rival could breach the Chennai fortress as CSK won all seven of its league engagements in its ‘whistle podu' (whistle-away) backyard and added one more with a glittering triumph in the final. The relentless march commenced on the opening day — April 8 — when Dhoni's men won against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) by two runs while nerves jangled in the final over.

“It would be fun to beat them in Chennai,” hoped the RCB coach, Ray Jennings. It was a common dream that lay in tatters for all rival head-honchos while Dhoni marshalled his men adroitly with an inscrutable face that revealed no emotion except for that odd laconic grin.

The lone blemish was the baffling vulnerability in away games. CSK proved to be poor travellers, winning just two out of its seven league contests in outside venues though Fleming downplayed it by saying: “It is just a question of adaptability to different pitches and conditions.”



With the squad well set, Chennai Super Kings played its cards really well at home. No rival could breach the Chennai fortress as the team won all seven of its league engagements in its ‘whistle podu' (whistle-away) backyard and added one more with a glittering triumph in the final.

It has to be admitted though that CSK was done in by a once-in-a-lifetime innings played by Paul Valthaty (120 not out) in Mohali where Kings XI Punjab soared, and by the vagaries of the Duckworth Lewis Method while the skies opened up in Kolkata to ease the path for KKR.

The credit for CSK's golden run belongs equally to the management, the skipper and a well-oiled team where the sum is greater than the parts.

Run by the stable of India Cements, well clued into the nitty-gritty of running cricket teams in the unforgiving and passionate leagues of Chennai, CSK's backroom had men in pinstripes who actually spoke about the game and its history with knowledge and respect.

The captain, ever living in the present, promptly shifted his focus on CSK and was able to keep aside his life-defining memory of holding aloft the World Cup in Mumbai on April 2. RCB's Kohli admitted that he and a clutch of players from India's World Cup-winning squad took some time to adapt to the atmospherics of the IPL. Dhoni, however, was living in a different zone, clued into the ‘here and now', leading well and muscling in the runs when needed. He was undettered by the odd defeat.

The squad found men who put their hands up without fail. The template of success was mounted on a batting that rested well on the shoulders of Badrinath (396 runs), Hussey (492), Raina (438), Vijay (434) and Dhoni (392) and the squad also surged through the skills of Ashwin (20 wickets), Bollinger (17) and Morkel (15).

The unsung Badrinath was consistent. Hussey prospered right through except for a brief blip ahead of the final. Raina and Vijay reserved their best for the crunch games, the southpaw lashing a match-winning unbeaten 73 against RCB in the qualifier in Mumbai and the opener stylishly mauling the Bangalore team in the final.

The bowling revolved around the settled guard of Ashwin, Bollinger and Morkel and the trio did not disappoint. Ashwin's duels with Gayle in the tussles against RCB proved to be the classic cat-and-mouse gambit.



Prize scalp…R. Ashwin of Chennai Super Kings (right) celebrates with team-mates after dismissing the danger man, Chris Gayle of Royal Challengers Bangalore. Ashwin's duels with Gayle proved to be the classic cat-and-mouse gambit.

Spin and guile eventually won against strong arms and flashing bat and CSK never looked back. The established names may have lived up to the faith of the team owners but even players like Wriddhiman Saha and Shadab Jakati did their bit under pressure.

The CSK fielding too emitted energy and enthusiasm with men like Dwayne Bravo lending all-round sparkle to the outfield.

CSK's victory is an apt tribute to a city that worships good cricket, irrespective of teams and loyalties. The triumph on a sweaty Saturday night has given equal joy to the men in Triplicane and Mylapore, who nurse their filter coffees and discuss the game's traditions right from the days of W. G. Grace, and to the masses that embrace life with gusto ranging from Rajnikanth's style to that welcome breeze on the Marina Beach.

Hopefully CSK's stately gait will also rub onto the Tamil Nadu cricket team which has often flattered to deceive in the Ranji Trophy. Perhaps Dhoni's men have done enough to inject steel into Tamil Nadu's cricketing tradition high on talent but often faltering in the final steps of the domestic tournament.

For now, Chennaiites can keep mumbling breathlessly: “Indha Dhoni super aaalu.” Which roughly translated means: “This Dhoni is super.” The encomiums truly belong to him and his team.



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