In cricket, especially in the fast-paced game as Twenty20 (T20), it is imperative that all three departments – batting, bowling, fielding – work in tandem.
However, if there has been a team that has time and again relied on just one department to pull it out of the lurches, it has been Chennai Super Kings.
With a batting line-up that includes names like Shane Watson, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Dwayne Bravo and MS Dhoni, Chennai haven’t faced any problem on the batting front.
Most players in the playing XI of CSK are in their thirties and the fielding standards aren’t exactly breathtaking. However, this is not as major a concern for the team and management as its inexperienced bowling attack.
In the match against Delhi Daredevils on 30 April, Chennai set a target of 212 and gave away a massive 120 runs off the last ten, but just about managed to get the victory as Delhi fell short by 14 runs.
Dhoni wasn’t exactly pleased with the insipid bowling efforts and said, “Death bowling hasn’t been good, and if we reach the finals, which will be held in small grounds, the margin of error is very small.”
With none of the CSK bowlers, barring Bravo at times, being effective in the death overs (15-20), Dhoni has had to shuffle with his bowlers a lot.
Bravo has been the go-to bowler for CSK in the death overs and he has sent down 20 overs so far and picked up seven wickets. However, it is the runs given tally that has troubled the team in this edition as Bravo’s economy rate in the death overs is a high 11.18
The other bowler Dhoni has resorted to in the death overs is the young Shardul Thakur, who has bowled ten overs for his five wickets. However, he too has an economy rate of 11.1 and this is where CSK is hurting the most in IPL 11.
Contrasting CSK’s death bowling fortunes with Sunrisers Hyderabad, the most potent bowling side in this edition, the chasm between these two table-toppers come to the fore.
SRH, led by Kane Williamson, are the only team to have secured qualification into the playoffs and this is riding on a bowling attack that has constantly defended small totals with consummate ease.
For CSK, Bravo has bowled the most number of overs in the death (20) and Shardul comes second with his ten overs and then it is Lungi Ngidi with four. With Dhoni using permutations and combinations to figure out the best death-overs combination, the trio of Bravo, Thakur and Ngidi share just 34 overs between them, picking up 13 wickets at an economy rate of 9.6.
However, the top three bowlers in SRH – Siddarth Kaul, Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar — have bowled 45 overs between them, picking 17 wickets at an economy rate of 7.58.
Williamson has used these three bowlers in tandem to get the job done and has looked at other options for only nine overs. It is the strength of SRH that even in these nine overs bowled by five different bowlers, the team accounted for seven wickets giving away just 59 runs, whereas the seven different bowlers for CSK have taken five wickets for a whopping 184 runs.
The main difference between both these teams is the presence of someone like Kaul, who has sent in 19 overs and given a paltry 95 runs at the death and also is the highest wicket-taker for SRH (7) in this phase.
The other concern for Dhoni would be the lack of wickets in the death overs. Like Kaul, Bravo too has seven wickets to his name, but the absence of a second death bowler has added undue pressure on him.
The top-3 death bowlers in SRH have a total of 17 wickets to their names, which is just one less than the total number of wickets taken by the 10 CSK bowlers whom Dhoni entrusted the job of finishing the matches.
While this lack of depth in the bowling department would be detrimental to CSK’s chances this season, Dhoni looks to be worried about the lack of application more than anything else.
On Friday, defending a total of a par-plus score of 176 at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur against Rajasthan Royals, the last five overs went for 55 runs for the loss of two wickets as the Royals chased down the score with a ball to spare.
It was not just the uninspired bowling but also poor catching in the death overs that gave RR opener Jos Buttler three lives in the last five, which he made the most use of, to end with an unbeaten knock of 95.
The usually restraint Dhoni let his emotions get the better of him and was clearly livid with the bowlers not sticking to the plan.
In the post-match presentation, Dhoni minced no words while gave his bowlers a dressing down and said that no matter what the plan was, there can be nothing done if there is poor execution.
“We were supposed to bowl one particular length. The bowlers were instructed to bowl back of a length and they could not execute it. We were hit for a lot of boundaries off full bowls. The bowlers let us down,” said a dejected Dhoni.
With just three matches left in the group stages, Chennai are making things difficult for themselves with performances like the one against Ajinkya Rahane-led Rajasthan Royals.
On 13 May, Chennai take on Hyderabad in home conditions for a much-needed two points that will allow Dhoni and co to keep one foot in the playoff stage. The last time these two teams met, Chennai just about managed to snuff out a 4-run victory after giving off 61 runs in the death overs.
With matches against Delhi and Punjab to follow, CSK have their hands full in the group stages. While their batting is capable of chasing down any score, it is their bowling that will keep Dhoni and Chennai’s think tank on tenterhooks.
In such a long tournament, no team can hide any weaknesses and in CSK’s case, it is clear that their death bowling is its Achilles’ heel.
With no bowler standing up and deciding to take on the mantle of being CSK’s other premium death bowler, Dhoni has his task cut out.
For the Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings, who are in their comeback season, there are a couple of questions that loom large – Will Dhoni rectify the chink in CSK’s armour and qualify for the playoffs or will CSK, despite its bowling department, qualify for the playoffs?
However, there are hardly a few matches left to play in the eleventh edition of Indian Premier League and with three playoff spots up for grabs, it is anyone’s game now.