If there’s a team living the adage that well begun is only half done, it is the one from Chennai. Easily one of the three strongest units in the IPL, M.S. Dhoni’s men have seen a four-match winning streak snap and how. Call it the seven-match itch or what you will, but after having painted the tournament yellow with four victories they have been saddled with a hat-trick of losses.
With a superstar captain in M.S. Dhoni, one of the best opening batsmen in Matthew Hayden and legendary off-spinner Muthiah Muralitharan in their ranks, Chennai’s beginning with a bang was no surprise. But Delhi halted their good run with a thumping win, which coincided with the departure of Hayden, Michael Hussey and Jacob Oram for their respective countries.
And for all of Dhoni’s denials that their exit hasn’t affected the team, Chennai lost away to Jaipur and ‘surprise, surprise’ at home to Hyderabad. Their batting looks depleted now and always considered a weak link the bowling has stayed that despite reinforcements in the form of Makhaya Ntini and Albie Morkel.
The H factor
There was a certain spring in the team’s steps when Hayden practised with them. Surely, the opposition bowlers were not amused when little Parthiv Patel and strapping Hayden walked in to bat. With the Aussie around, bowlers certainly couldn’t have afforded a laugh at the contrast in size.
And after Hayden, there was Hussey (Michael), who delivered in the first three matches. Hussey’s century in Mohali and Big Matt’s 81 against Mumbai and 70 against Kolkata were easily the match-winning knocks. And Dhoni’s half-century made the difference against Bangalore.
Without the H factor, Chennai don’t quite look the same. Parthiv and Stephen Fleming have not exactly put fear of God in the bowlers’ hearts. Though Dhoni and coach Kepler Wessels have said that replacements for the Aussies are good in their own way, Chennai’s totals in the last three matches are a good enough indicator of how conspicuous the Australians have been by their absence.
But, Chennai can take heart from the fact that Suresh Raina has been in great form. Easily their best batsman so far, Raina has scored consistently and quickly. In the first couple of matches, he batted down the order. But in the last three matches he has been promoted and made the difference between a low total and a fighting score.
Morkel too has chipped in with useful knocks in the last two matches. His 42 against Jaipur brought some respectability to their total of 107. But when a team which had totals of 240/5, 208/5, 178/5 post scores like 107, 144 it tells its own story. And that sums up how life’s been without Hayden and Hussey.
If you had Muralitharan as an option, surely you could not be termed a weak bowling attack. But barring the Sri Lankan, the attack has looked weak. And they won the first three of their four matches because batsmen gave them big totals to defend.
Yet rookies Palani Amarnath and Manpreet Gony have done decently. Oram was effective against Kolkata and Murali was magical with his none for 12 against the same team.
Ntini and Morkel have joined them after Oram, but they haven’t got big totals to defend and it would be unfair to say the South Africans don’t quite add up to Oram's value to the team.