Beaten finalists in last year's tournament, CSK remain one of the strongest and certainly the most experienced squads going around. I said last season that I thought they had a few players that were one too many winters into their career to win the tournament but they came mighty close to proving me and quite a lot of others wrong. So what's changed for this year's instalment of the IPL? Well, not much is the answer, CSK have maintained a core group of players many of whom are closer to 40 than they are 30 and several of whom genuinely seem to be in the twilight of their career.
I would be concerned that the potential opening partnership of Shane Watson and Faf Du Plessis haven't been in the best of form in the run-up to this tournament. Watson chose to play in the Bangladesh Super League this year ahead of the Big Bash in his native Australia no doubt hoping to gain some time in the middle in subcontinent conditions but in the 7 matches he played he made just one significant score (68). Meanwhile, Du Plessis endured a torrid time in the recent Test series against England and was then rested for the 50 and 20 over matches that followed. Faf has since resigned the captaincy of South Africa and looks like a man who is coming to the end of his career.
While Faf has had his issues in Test cricket his white-ball game remains strong
Moving down the order and again it will be much of a muchness in what we've seen in previous years with a strong Indian base to the middle order comprising Raina, Rayudu, Dhoni and Jadhav. Having had such a strong tournament in 2019, Rayudu was probably one of the major disappointments of last years IPL. It undoubtedly didn't help that he was one of a long list of players that India tried and then quickly jettisoned from their 50-over team in preparation for the World Cup. For his part, Rayudu did fairly well playing for his nation and can feel rightly aggrieved not to have made the final cut but with that opportunity/distraction now passed, this year sees a chance for him to return to the kind of form that got the selectors attention in the first place. Indeed with the question marks over the top 2 stated above, I wonder if Rayudu might at some point be given an opportunity to open, a role that he took to very well a couple of years ago.
Rayudu was CSK's top run getter in 2018 and the 4th highest overall. Largely speaking he opened the batting in 2018 while last season being pushed down the order
CSK's trump card will continue to be their bowling both in terms of the depth and variety they have on offer and of course the way that Dhoni utilises the ample resources he has at his disposal. The pitches in Chennai always favour spin and CSK will have a minimum 3 slow bowlers in their line-up at any one time with the Tahir and Chawla's leg-spin being complemented by Harbajhan and Jadhav's right-arm off-spin and Jadeja's and Santners left-arm slow bowling. The acquisition of Chawla looks to be a smart move by CSK and while at 30-years-old he can't be considered a youngster he is still 10 years the junior of Tahir and for a spinner is arguably coming into the prime of his career. Getting him in the squad also means that CSK have greater options in regards who to select as their 4 overseas players in the final 11 now that they aren't overly reliant on Tahir as their wrist-spinning option.
Tahir has been a wicket-taking option for CSK in the middle overs for some time but now faces competition from Chawla
Of those overseas players, CSK have once again been canny with their signings by bringing in Josh Hazlewood and Sam Curran. Hazlewood is one of the finest quick bowlers in world cricket at present and while he doesn't enter this tournament with quite the same fanfare or price tag as his fellow countryman Pat Cummins he is certainly a fine addition to an already strong squad. Unlike Cummins, Hazlewood returned for a few games at the back end this year's BBL and showed that being able to bowl accurately and quickly in T20 cricket is just as effective a skill as having a huge variety of deliveries. Curran meanwhile was one of the big signings of last year's IPL and he had some reasonable success while at KXIP. One of the major benefits of his move to CSK will be that he joins a settled and established squad who generally look to bring in players for the long-haul. Curran will be battling it out with stalwart Dwayne Bravo a spot in the side and once again he has youth on his side as well as offering Dhoni yet another option with his left-arm seamers.
Sam Curran always seems to make an impact in whatever form of cricket he plays in
Predictions and betting tips
Looks like I'm a bit too early for the bookies to have put up all the markets for this year's IPL but when they do, I will be looking at the price for CSK to finish in the top 4. I am still concerned that they've got an ageing squad but their actions in the auction to bring in 3 players who will at the very least challenge for a spot in the starting 11 mean that I think they'll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. Add to that the fact that they are so strong in home conditions and it seems likely that they'll get the 8 wins that are generally necessary to get a playoff spot.
Another price I'll be checking will be Rayudu as top run-scorer for CSK. His disappointing season last year might have pushed his price up a little but we'll wait and see.
Bowling wise it's difficult to say with CSK as they have so many options for selection and within the final 11 that no one name really stands out. I'll wait and see what the prices reveal but it would have to be very good value to get me to place a bet.