IPL 2023: Stokes a game changer, says Balaji 

England Test skipper can be groomed to be the finisher, the role which has been played by Dhoni so far for the four-time champions

CHENNAI:  Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings (CSK) are eyeing a record-equalling fifth title in the upcoming season of the Indian Premier League. In their bid to lift the trophy, the team had a fruitful three-week intense practice session with most of the players in attendance at Chepauk.

The four-time champions had a disastrous campaign in 2022 where they finished 9th on the points table. They witnessed a change of guard before the status quo returned. The Chennai-based franchise managed only four wins from 14 league matches last season. 

The new-look CSK, however, are keen to perform better this season. They will meet Hardik Pandya’s Gujarat Titans in the IPL 2023 opener at the Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad (Gujarat) on March 31. “The CSK side looks good as it ticks all the boxes. The team is sure to perform well this season. At the preparatory camp, the players, in particular the new ones, would have been briefed about their role and the camp would have helped all the players bond,’’ said former India player L Balaji, who till last season was the bowling coach of the CSK.

The huge crowds to witness the practice sessions at Chepauk is a clear indicator that the team’s fan base is intact. Dhoni in the past has often said that the loyalty and passion of CSK fans, at times, have driven the team to give its best.

So what sets CSK apart from the other teams in the IPL. “CSK brand of cricket is totally different and unique from others. They play a fearless brand of cricket with a lot of passion and dedication. The team treats victory and defeat in the same manner, they never go overboard. Plus the bonding among the players is good and they are like one large family and that is why CSK is one of the most successful and loved teams in the IPL and world over,’’ explained Balaji.

CSK’s formula for success has always been two quality openers, one solid top-order batter, one finisher and two quality bowlers who could bowl well in the powerplay and at the death. They had openers like Matthew Hayden, Brendon McCullum, Mike Hussey and Murali Vijay in the past. Suresh Raina, known as ‘Mr IPL’, was a solid top-order bat. Dhoni has played the role of finisher till date. While the likes of Balaji, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Doug Bollinger, Dwayne Bravo were the bowlers who could bowl at the powerplay and at the death with equitable ease.

‘’You are right, CSK’s formula has been to have two solid openers to exploit the field restrictions and then have a top-order batter to carry forward the momentum. Dhoni has been playing the role of a finisher with panache all these years. Quality bowlers at the powerplay and death have helped CSK win many a match. Bravo has been one bowler who did well in his role in the past,’’ said Balaji.

So the big question is who will among the current lot and new recruits will fit in to fulfill the roles in the tried and tested formula of CSK. ‘’Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devon Convey can make a good opening pair. Ambati Rayudu can play the role of Raina. It is difficult to play the role of Dhoni. But Ben Stokes can be groomed to be the finisher that CSK will look forward to in the future. Stokes with his attacking brand of cricket could be the game changer that CSK is looking for. Deepak Chahar, Stokes himself, Moeen Ali, Mukesh Choudhary, Jadeja, Dwaine Pretorius, Mitchell Santner are the bowling options that CSK can exploit. As I said earlier, CSK ticks all the boxes and have quality players in their ranks,’’ opined Balaji.

Coming to the first game, Gujarat Titans have been training hard and they do not want to take any chances against CSK. Hardik, their skipper, was very active in the camp and gelled with all the players. He is keen to start the season on a positive note. ‘’We have all prepared well. Our team is keen to start the season on a positive note. Our captain Hardik Pandya is leading by example. He is keen that we do well as a group and has been making it a point to talk to each and every player in order to get the best out of them. CSK is a top team, we are of aware it and would give our best shot,’’ Sai Sudharsan, top order batter of Gujarat side.  

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