IPL 2018: Chennai Super Kings’ main challenge - winning back hearts
It is only fitting that Chennai Super Kings’ first match in three years happens to be against Mumbai Indians, the same side they had played in the 2015 IPL final before being banned for two years. That title clash at Eden Gardens was reduced to a side show by the shadow of the betting scandal.
Having served their punishment, Chennai Super Kings are back in the fray. While the controversy has scarred their legacy, there’s no denying there’s tremendous interest around their return. For their fans it will be an emotional moment when Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads his troops out in yellow. It has resulted in a mad demand for tickets for the IPL opener.
It’s a kind of rebirth for the yellow brigade. What it means to their older players and the team management was for everyone to see in their training at the Wankhede Stadium three days ahead of the opener. Kasi Viswanathan, the team boss, and the trusted lieutenant of former BCCI president N Srinivasan, wore a content smile.
Dhoni and Suresh Raina, the two pillars of the CSK, beat the pulp out of the net bowlers and Ravindra Jadeja kept slogging away at one of the nets. The intensity was impressive. Stephen Fleming, Mike Hussey and L Balaji, player-turned support staff, were overseeing the operations with alacrity.
With their core group intact, CSK will be eager to re-establish their dominance in the tournament. Their record is incredible: they have contested the final most numbers of times --- six. They are the ones to set the template for success in the T20 league. They had got it spot on in the opening auction with smart buys. At the heart of CSK’s team formation was the emphasis on having a strong group of Indian players.
By going for tried and tested players this time, CSK are again banking on experience. But Dhoni is a master at getting the best out of old, skillful hands. Ashish Nehra is a classic example. When the left-arm pacer was written off, he got the best out of him at CSK and that helped him stage a comeback to the India T20 side.
More than anything, the pressure on CSK is to win the trust of the fans back. Given Dhoni’s massive following in Mumbai, the din at the stadium when he walks out will be as big as for any of the great heroes of Indian cricket, but they have a lot of work to do.
And the CSK members know that. Back home in Chennai, they are leaving no stone unturned to maximize their connect with fans. They have got their players actively involved in promotional activities over the last week, and even travelled in an open top bus to practice to woo fans. Before the betting scandal blotted their record, CSK were known for their entertaining brand of cricket. If they can reproduce that old magic on the field, half the battle to win over the hearts will be done.