The Heart Of The Fix

So, there we go. With the arrest of three cricketers belonging to the Rajasthan Royals team in the IPL, for the crime of spot-fixing, widespread and long time speculations of corruption in the cash rich league have been confirmed. S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan – all bowlers – were allegedly promised money ranging from US$ 36,000 to 109, 000 for conceding a specific number of runs in a particular over in three separate games. These cricketers have been charged with fraud, cheating and criminal conspiracy – a shameful list of wrongdoings which is the antithesis of sports. If proven guilty, these players are staring at the end of their careers, a considerable amount of time in prison and a lifetime of regret and guilt.

The first thought that came to my mind when I heard of the news was, “How can these guys be so stupid?”. In the last few years, spot-fixing has been firmly thrust in the spotlight; Amir and Asif during a Lord’s Test, Kaneria and Westfield in county cricket, uncapped IPL players attempting it in the Indian domestic circuit. All these players got caught and were handed appropriate punishments. The ICC and the respective national boards have revamped their anti-corruption units in recent times, while there has been an increase in efforts to better educate the players as to what to do when they are approached by bookies and which authorities to contact when it happens. Spot-fixing has been pretty much publicized and recognized as a new scourge of cricket all over the world, and yet three well paid cricketers, one a Test player, have likely sacrificed promising careers in the pursuit of “just a little more $”.

Sure, there will be a bunch of detractors gunning for the tournament. Any league which throws around the amount of cash it does will always be a ripe target for bookies. Added to it, is the lopsided difference in salaries between team-mates at a particular franchise; a seasoned player getting much less than a supposed T20 specialist is as susceptible to approaches by undesirable elements as an uncapped rookie who earns barely a fraction of the highest paid players in his team. These and other points by IPL detractors are pertinent and not to be ignored. At the same time, these should not distract from the core issue – the susceptibility of these players who fall prey to greed.

Spot fixing or match fixing is not just confined to the IPL; in fact, it is not even confined to the game of cricket. It permeates just about every major sports in the world to varying degrees. One can’t wash his hands off watching sports altogether, just for that. The problem is not a specific format or a tournament; the problem is the man who is willing to compromise his morals, ethics and integrity to satisfy his greed and in the process, deceives his team-mates, fans, coaches, family and himself.  And its not a problem that is going to go away easily.

The game of cricket is lucky to have some extraordinary players who entertain with their talent, inspire with their courage and make us loyal fans with their commitment. In a nutshell, that is the essence of sports. A few bad eggs (a term which is all the rage right now!) should not shake our faith in the game or its players. You can form all the anti-corruption units in the world, educate the players every day about the scourge of fixing, provide better salaries – but there will always be a few for whom greed pervades over all other factors. So, much like the War on Terror, the fight against corruption in sports will have to be an ongoing exercise; there will be setbacks along the way but it must never end. More importantly, never let a select few sully your love of the game.

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – In the end, Mr Cricket is the real winner

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Rajasthan Royals in Chennai

Result: Chennai Super Kings won by 5 wickets

Narrative:

The Royals chose to bat first, and were single-handedly powered to a mammoth score by Aussie all-rounder Shane Watson, who scored a belligerent ton (also the first of IPL-6). He was particularly harsh on CSK’s new favorite, Jadeja, who cracked in his third over conceding 18 runs including two sixes and two big wides. Stuart Binny was the only other batsman who made a substantial contribution and Ashwin was the only bowler who ended with decent bowling figures. It left the Super Kings needing 186 to win the game.

The Super Kings were in control of the chase, right from the start. Despite Vijay’s failure (again), Hussey and Raina never let the required rate shoot up. Raina scored a much-needed half century with contained some trademark shots of his, while Hussey continued his rich vein of form to score a match-winning 88 from 51 balls which completely neutralized Watson’s century. Despite a late stutter, Bravo’s six in the final over bowled by Watson ensured that CSK would move right to the top of the points table.

Analysis:

It was refreshing to finally see the Super Kings break the back of a chase in the power play overs. Last time I mentioned how their strategy of keeping their push for victory too late would not work every time, and that they need to retune their strategy; it seems like they paid attention. It also helped that chasing a mammoth target meant that they would have to come out all guns blazing from the word ‘go’. For a team which boasts of an enviable depth in batting, they really should bat more confidently and more often. Hopefully, they will make this a trend.

First, the disappointments. There were two, namely Murali Vijay and Ravindra Jadeja. Both were stars of the last Test series against Australia and both were in contrasting form in this IPL, up to the start of this game. Except for a run-a-ball fifty against KXIP, Vijay has had a shoddy time with the bat, and moreover he doesn’t project an air of self-confidence either. Honestly, I don’t see how he can survive the axe for the next game. Baba Aparjith can be given a chance, considering his allround skills.

As for Jadeja, this game was bound to happen sooner than later. He was tonked mercilessly by Watson and he seemed to crack from the pressure bowling two huge wides in his third over. With the bat, he lasted for a mere two deliveries before getting his stumps knocked out of the ground. If he was floating in the air after all the “Sir” jokes and mass adulation, he would have come back to earth with a thud after this game.

We also got our first look at Jason Holder, the tall West Indian bowler. Nothing special about his performance though; unless he picks wickets by the bunch in the next couple of games, I don’t see him getting picked over Nannes, Laughlin or Hilfenhaus in the future.

It was great to see Raina back in fine form; he is one of the finest T20 players around, and the Super Kings would have heaved a sigh of relief when they saw his meaty blows to the fence. Undoubtedly, the real hero for CSK this year has been Michael Hussey. Free of national commitments, Mr Cricket has narrowed his focus to performing for CSK with all the zeal and determination of a player trying to make his mark among the big boys. With his third fifty this year, he has zoomed to the top of the run charts and established himself as CSK’s most prized wicket; and that’s saying something considering the rich array of batsmen that the men in yellow possess.

Preview of next game:

Hyderabad Sunrisers in Chennai. Without Perera and Sangakarra, the team will be considerably weakened; but the likes of Mishra , Steyn, White and Vihari, with the possible inclusion of World Cup winning skipper Darren Sammy, will ensure a tough contest for the Super Kings. The Sunrisers are third in the points table and they will itching to show just why.

 

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – When Sir was enough for the Knights

Match: Kolkata Knight Riders vs Chennai Super Kings in Kolkata

Result: Chennai Super Kings won by 4 wickets

Narrative:

Kolkata Knight Riders batted first and Gambhir opened with a new partner in Yusuf Pathan. The move seemed to have worked as KKR raced to 46 in 6 overs, as they take full toll of Albie Morkel in particular. It took a Hussey special at third man to trigger a slide, as Gambhir was the first one to get dismissed. Two balls later, a direct hit from Badri sent Kallis on his way without facing a delivery; Morgan and Pathan followed quickly, and just like that KKR had lost 4 wickets for 9 runs in the space of 13 deliveries. Tiwary and Das staged a mini fight-back, but once Ashwin scalped both of them in consecutive overs, Jadeja picked three other lower order wickets as KKR stalled to 119/9 from their allotted overs.

In response, Dhoni surprised everyone by sending Ashwin to open the innings with Hussey. The move didn’t totally work out as Narine broke the opening partnership in the fifth over. Soon, errors of judgment accounted for both Vijay and Raina, and CSK were staring at a familiar top order failure. It turned into dire straits when Dhoni was dismissed with the target still 66 runs away and 51 deliveries remaining. Hussey stood solid at one end, but his slow scoring seemed to hurt CSK as the required rate kept creeping up. The arrival of Jadeja at the fall of Badri’s wicket changed all that. Twenty too balls later, Jadeja stood tall with an unbeaten 36 from 14 deliveries as he stole another win for CSK.

Analysis:

First of all, let me just state for the record that sometimes it can be frustrating to be a fan of the men in yellow. They always seem to push themselves into a situation where they need a minor miracle to win a game. Despite the target being a paltry 120, the batsmen batted themselves into a situation where they needed 50 from the last five overs. That they won is another matter; it is high-risk tactic for CSK despite their depth in batting, and it might not come off in a given crucial encounter.

A few words of praise for the fielding. In a tournament which has seen a dramatic improvement in fielding standards from last year’s edition, it is good to see that the Super Kings are one of the finest exponents of it. Hussey’s well judged catch, Badri’s direct hit when he had one stump to aim at, Bravo’s fielding and throw for run out (off his own bowling) – all this would make the fielding coach Steve Rixon a proud man.

The bowling seems to be fine-tuned with the exception of one specialist bowler. Nannes’ injury had opened the way for Morkel, who has not really inspired confidence; even the rookie Mohit Sharma is bowling better than him. Apart from that, the consistency of Morris and the spinners is reassuring.

Murali Vijay and Suresh Raina continue to be a source of concern for Fleming and Dhoni. Their attacking style is supposed to bookend the likes of Hussey and Badrinath, who play more of a stabilizing role in the side. Their failures have been the cause of the batting stutters so far in this tournament, and it has required Dhoni and Jadeja to bail them out often. It is highly likely that one of them will be missing from the playing XI for next game.

Ravindra Jadeja is turning out to be CSK’s most valuable player this season. With the ball, he is miserly and keeps picking up wickets. On the field, he is a live-wire, saving precious runs. And now, he has taken over from Dhoni, as the team’s savior with the bat for the second time in a week. In a team full of stars, the Rockstar is the man dragging the team to the top of the table.

Preview of next game:

Next up, CSK take on the Rajasthan Royals aka Dravid’s men in Chennai. The Royals have been one of the consistent teams this year, despite the lack of big stars in their line-up. What they do have is a bunch of performers who combine well enough to win most games; Watson, Rahane, Dravid and Hodge with the bat; and Cooper/Tait, Trivedi, Sreesanth and Chandila with the ball – CSK will do well to re-jig their strategy accordingly.

Tweet of the game:

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – No Dares From the Double D

Match: Delhi Daredevils vs Chennai Super Kings

Result: Chennai Super Kings win by 86 runs

Narrative:

MS Dhoni won the toss and decided to bat first in CSK’s 100th game; Nannes missed out due to injury paving way for the return of rookie Mohit Sharma and Mike Hussey came back in place of Srikkanth. Despite Vijay’s dismissal after a rapid start, Hussey and Raina stabilized the ship taking the score to 60/1 after 10 overs. When Raina got out in the 13th over, the skipper walked and immediately took control. A frenetic 44 from 23 balls meshed perfectly with Hussey’s unbeaten 65 to take the Super Kings to 169.

In reply, the Daredevils got off to the worst start, trudging to 32/4 in the power play; Little known Haryana medium pacer Mohit Sharma snared the wickets of Warner, Juneja and Sehwag while Chris Morris got the big fish – Jayawardene. Despite Kedhar Jadav’s resistance, the Super Kings put the brakes on the scoring and kept picking wickets regularly. Ultimately, the Daredevils were bowled out for 83; Along with the lowest score of the IPL this year, DD crashed to their sixth straight loss of the tournament. Meanwhile, CSK jumped to the fourth position in the points table.

Analysis:

This was just about the perfect game for the Super Kings. Their batting finally shook off the blues; Vijay was looking good for much more when he got out and Raina got some runs under his belt. The batting relies heavily on acceleration in the second half of the innings and it came off perfectly, as Raina, Hussey and Dhoni helped add 109 runs in the final 10 overs. With the ball, their punt on rookie Sharma paid off handsomely as he gave the team a perfect start with the ball. Then the spinners took over to strangle the opposition with combined figures of 3/39 from 8 overs. The end result was a massive win for the men in yellow.

Mike Hussey showed why he is such an invaluable member of the side. He might be no Chris Gayle, but he can be much more consistent and reliable. He paced his innings just right, till the end. Despite du Plessis’ return to the side, it is highly unlikely that the Aussie will be the one to make way for him. Vijay and Raina are still not racking up the big scores, but they show signs of good touch. As for Dhoni, it is good to see that the skipper is in ‘smashing’ form. More often than not, he has struggled in T20s over the years with regards to pacing his knock. This year, there is a refreshingly simple approach to his batting and he is more trusting of his natural game.

Nannes’ injury proved to be a blessing in disguise as it made the Super Kings take another look at their local fast bowling resources. Mohit Sharma had a good game, but it would be wise to wait a few games before judging him; tougher opponents await. I’m also liking the look of Chris Morris so far; while his batting exploits are to be seen yet, his bowling has largely been disciplined and he seems to have the knack of picking wickets at crucial junctures. He would have every reason to think that he has sealed one overseas spot for himself, for the rest of the season. No surprises when it comes to the spinners; they are CSK’s strength and the team management will be pleased that they are maintaining their good record.

Preview of next game:

Next up is the encounter against defending champions KKR in their den. Gambhir’s men are a lowly 7th in the points table and their performances are more reminiscent of the KKR seen in the first two seasons; still it would be unwise to take them lightly. Gambhir and Morgan are in good touch, while Narine has been consistently troubling the opposition. CSK would do well to bring their A-game against a side which derailed their plans of a 3rd consecutive title last year.

Tweets of the game:

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – Mr Smith comes to Chennai

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Pune Warriors India in Chennai

Result: Pune Warriors won by 24 runs

Narrative:  

Pune’s stand-in skipper Ross Taylor won the toss and chose to bat first. Almost immediately, Aaron Finch embarked on a rampage, sending the CSK fielders on a leather hunt during the first half of PWI’s innings. Aided by the sedate Utthappa, Finch turned on an exhibition of crisp hitting, as the openers added 96 for the first wicket within 13 overs. When he got out though, CSK seemed to have clawed back as the men in yellow restricted the run rate and prised the wickets of Utthappa, Taylor and Marsh in the process. It was then, the much maligned Steven Smith who turned the heat right back on Dhoni’s men with an audacious 39 from 16 deliveries, as Pune Warriors posted 159/5 from their allotted overs.

In response, CSK got off to a terrible start when Srikkanth (junior), who replaced Mike Hussey, got out to the second delivery of the innings. From there, they kept losing wickets at inopportune times; Vijay, Badri and Jadeja failed to convert their starts, Dhoni had a rare failure and the overseas stars came undone with the bat. In the end, the men in yellow stumbled to 135/8, handing their opponents an unexpected victory.

Analysis:

Since the start of their campaign this year, Pune Warriors kept on the sidelines, the one man who was their lone bright spot during last year’s disastrous run. Steven Smith finally got a game due to the enforced absence of their regular skipper, Angelo Mathews, and once he came out to the crease made the management look like a bunch of fools for keeping him out so long. Despite Finch’s start, it was Smith’s late flourish that helped the Pune Warriors to a challenging total.

As for CSK, it seemed to be an experimental side for the game and they got their just reward for taking the opposition too lightly. Sitting out Hussey and playing one all-rounder too many was not the smartest of decisions. The bowlers for the most part did a manful job on a batting track, but the performance of the experienced Nannes and Bravo was disappointing. Nannes hasn’t really brought any oomph to the attack, which his compatriot Bollinger brought to the team when he made his IPL debut. As for Bravo, he doesn’t really offer anything that the other all-rounders don’t (except for his dancing moves) and it might be better for CSK to go with the overseas combination of Hussey-Morkel-Morris and Nannes/Hilfenhaus/Holder for future games.

As for the batting, Dhoni is justified in his anger at the post-match press conferences. For the most successful team in IPL history, to perennially struggle with the top order is frustrating; it is hard to expect Dhoni and Jadeja to perform miracles all the time. Vijay can’t seem to find the perfect balance between attack and defend while Raina is not displaying his once-famed consistency in the shortest format. These two players need to back up Hussey and Badri, if CSK are to win more games. One quarter of CSK’s campaign is over, and their record is 2-2. In a tightly packed table, they cannot afford too many slip-ups against lesser teams.

Preview of next game:

Next up, the Super Kings travel north to take on the wooden spoon owners, Delhi Daredevils. Ideally, one would think that the men in yellow would win this comfortably; but given their fondness for making every game a tight encounter, expect this to be a tough one.

Tweet of the game:

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – Another day in the life of Jadeja

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Royal Challengers Bangalore in Chennai

Result: CSK win by four wickets

Narrative:

MS Dhoni won the toss, chose to field first and was almost immediately vindicated as Chris Gayle perished in the second over. If the CSK skipper thought that was half the battle won, Kohli and later, de Villiers showed there is more to RCB than the muscular West Indian. Kohli reclaimed the Orange Cap with another effective knock but it was de Villiers’ manic unbeaten 64 which pushed the Royal Challengers to 165, a total that looked just about par. In reply, the men in yellow got to a poor start losing both their openers quickly to stumble to 10/2 in 4 overs. After that, Badrinath and Raina consolidated for a while before Dhoni gave the thrust in the latter part of the innings; but when Dhoni departed in the 18th over, the Super Kings were still looking at a stiff 29 runs from 11 deliveries to win. The equation soon changed to 16 needed from the final over, when RP Singh was given the ball. A fortuitous edge and a mighty swing over long on later, Jadeja had reduced it to 6 needed from 4 balls. In the end, with 2 runs needed off one ball, RP Singh induced an upper cut from Jadeja which nestled in third man’s hands, only for the umpire to signal a no-ball. Impossibly, CSK performed a heist against RCB. Again.

Analysis:

Phew. What a game. In the end, all the ‘Sir’ jokes about Jadeja came true as he stole an incredible win for the men in yellow, with a lot of help from the hapless RP Singh. This was a game that could have gone either way, but some timely hits and a lot of luck saw CSK through. CSK seemed to have got the strangle hold on RCB with the dismissal of Gayle, but when two world class batsmen like Kohli and de Villiers get going like they did, there is nothing much the opposition can do. In fact, given the way de Villiers was blitzing towards the end, RCB will feel like they landed at least 15 runs short.

The waiting game worked so well for Hussey-Vijay against Kings XI, but it came a cropper against RCB and put a lot of pressure on the middle order. Luckily, CSK have just the right men for the situation in Raina and Badri. The pair kept the runs ticking and most importantly didn’t lose their wickets too early. After that it was all Dhoni and Jadeja. When Dhoni got out, it looked for a while that the game was heading for a finish similar to the one against the Mumbai Indians. So, it was good to see Jadeja and Bravo strike timely hits to keep the team in the contest. For CSK to be consistently good, they will need more performances like this from the all-rounders who follow the captain.

What can be said about the RP Singh no-ball? He had a really poor game; he had dropped a sitter and bowled a big no-ball earlier in the game as well. While there were a lot of murmurs about ‘fixing’ on the social media, I would think it was just a case of an experienced bowler having an off day.

Preview of next game:

In two days, the Super Kings are taking on the Pune Warriors who are not having the greatest of seasons. While they seemed to have turned a corner in the game against the Rajasthan Royals, their performance against the Mumbai Indians betrayed old habits. They will also miss their regular captain Angelo Mathews as this game is being held in Chennai, and it will be interesting to see who the stand-in skipper will be. Either way, the Super Kings will do well not to take them lightly. It is important to grab these crucial wins against the lesser teams; as the game against RCB showed, the battle between the top tier teams can swing any way, any time.

Tweets of the game:

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – The One Where The Hussey In Yellow Comes Out On Top

Match: Kings XI Punjab vs Chennai Super Kings in Mohali

Result: Chennai Super Kings won by 10 wickets

Narrative: MS Dhoni won the toss and inserted the Kings XI in to bat first. Despite losing wickets at regular intervals, it looked like Kings XI were headed for a 180+ total, when David Hussey and Gurkeerat Singh were at the crease and scoring runs freely. Then at the start of the 14th over, Hussey holed out to long off which triggered an inexplicable collapse. Bravo and new man Chris Morris joined hands to pick off the remaining batsmen, as Kings XI lost their last seven wickets for 32 runs. Still, a target of 139 should have been tricky considering the performance of the Kings XI bowlers in the last game. Instead, Michael Hussey (aka Mr Cricket) and Murali Vijay (aka Monk) gave a batting exhibition worthy of their monikers to take the Super Kings to a crushing 10 wicket victory in the 18th over. It was not without drama of course as a dicey third umpire decision, a dropped catch and a missed stumping all went in favor of the CSK openers; yet it was a dominating performance by the visitors as they outclassed the hosts in all departments of the game.

Analysis: Going into this game, the Super Kings were at the bottom of the table while the Kings XI were at the top; both unfamiliar positions for the teams. Soon, order was restored though. Kings XI kept scoring runs freely in the first half of their innings but they also lost three of their top order batsmen in the process. Once Hussey got out, the Super Kings showed why they are so good by packing off the rest in clinical fashion. Vijay’s dropped catch early on in the innings was the only blemish, as the men in yellow were flawless on the field for the rest of the time. Even Ashwin took a spectacular diving catch. It was that kind of night. Also impressive was the bowling performance of Chris Morris, the South African all rounder who replaced Laughlin in the XI. With Bravo and Albie Morkel sealing the positions of two overseas all-rounders in the XI, it will be hard for Morris to retain his place when Morkel is fully fit; still, he has not done any harm to his chances and his performances with the bat will be closely watched.

What is left to be said about Michael Hussey? For a man who has stepped away from the highest levels of the game, he still plays with a lot of passion and skill, which his compatriots sorely lacked in the past couple of months. A strike rate of 159 might indicate that he threw his bat around, but his innings was anything but slam-bang. Placement, timing and right shot selection – that was all it took for a commanding 86 off 54 balls. His partner Murali Vijay played a very sensible knock with a sedate run-a-ball 50; his performance in the recent Test series has seemed to have changed his mentality and it showed as he willing to bide his time and give his partner the support he needed. All these augur well for the Super Kings as they head for tougher contests in the coming weeks.

Preview: Next up is the game against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, who are probably the most impressive team of this edition so far. Chris Gayle is always a perennial danger, but now the likes of Kohli, de Villiers and Henriques are doing their own part too. While Murali will not play in Chennai, the likes of Vettori, Kartik, Vinay Kumar and RP Singh will prove to be tougher for the CSK batsmen. How the men in yellow fare against them will give an early clue to how well the team have shaken off their rustiness. Either way, it should make for a terrific contest.

Tweet of the game:

https://twitter.com/ABVan/status/322039723352797184

(Pictures courtesy of ESPNCricinfo and IPLT20.com)

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – “Dhon’t” leave it too late!

Over the coming weeks, I will be offering my analysis of CSK’s games from a fan’s perspective. Here is the first of the lot:

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Mumbai Indians in Chennai

Result: Mumbai Indians win by 9 runs.

Narrative: Ricky Ponting won the toss and chose to bat. Promptly, MI were in trouble as they lost Tendulkar and Ponting to the seasoned Nannes and rookie Rajpoot. Dinesh Karthik continued from where he left off against RCB, but the wickets continued to fall as MI stumbled to 83/6 at the end of the 12th over. From there on, it was a Pollard show, as he played a typical belligerent innings to help MI to 148 with the help of Harbhajan Singh. In reply, CSK never really got going as they struggled to 97 in the 16th over when Jadeja lost his wicket. MSD took it as his cue to play his trademark back-to-the-wall innings, as a flurry of four and sixes came off his bat in the final overs, but it was that man Pollard again, whose spectacular catch on the boundary in the final over, who sealed CSK’s fate and with that the game for MI.

Analysis: A very disappointing loss, considering that CSK had reduced MI to 83/6 at one stage. Still, chasing 149 in home conditions against a side without its Lankan spearhead should have been comfortable enough. Yet, that old failing of CSK – unable to get going in the powerplay – came to the fore as the top order just allowed the required rate to shoot up, leaving too much for the middle and lower order to do. MS Dhoni can only do so much, and with a little help from the other batsmen could have still won the game. Starting the season unconvincingly is nothing new for CSK, and invariably they end strongly; but Fleming and Dhoni will have to seriously work on the issues with the top order. It’s worrying that Hussey-Vijay-Raina-Badri-Bravo are unable to give good starts consistently. Hopefully, the arrival of Albie Morkel in the coming week will help with the blues.

 

5 Unforgettable Moments for a Chennai Super Kings Fan

The IPL is here, and once more it is time to set aside national loyalties and pick a city-based franchise to cheer this season. As a loyal CSK fan ever since the league’s inception, I will be egging on Dhoni’s (yellow) men to shrug off last season’s heartbreaking loss in the final and come up trumps this time to claim the championship for the third time in six seasons. Here, in no particular order, are my top five moments as a CSK fan over the years:

1. Balaji’s hat-trick (vs Kings XI in 2008)

In the context of the game, the hat-trick may not have mattered much; three wickets remained and the batsmen were going for their shots anyway. Still, to see a local lad (and one of my favorites) pick the first hat-trick was a sure sign of things to come: for the team to do well, the local players had to step up. And how they did.

2. The Monk tees off (vs Rajasthan Royals in 2010)

CSK’s strength is the quality of big hitting batsmen in their side. Over the years, they have had Hayden, Flintoff, Dhoni, Raina, Morkel and Bravo – all players who could step in to top gear at a moment’s notice. While these players were largely known quantities, one player who chose the IPL to announce himself to the world in grand style was Murali Vijay. Just watch the quality of shots in the embedded video clip….

3. The Skipper leading from the front (vs Kings XI in 2010)

Think Dharamsala and you would associate it with serenity and beauty; but in one night, the usually calm and collected MS Dhoni exploded to viscerally demolish Irfan Pathan in the final over of the game to give CSK a much needed win. The team was having an average run up to that point, but when Dhoni punched his helmet to celebrate the victory, it signaled the onset of a turn-around in fortunes.

4. Pollard gets out to a plan (vs Mumbai Indians in 2010)

CSK were cruising to their first IPL title in the final when big Kieron Pollard walked in. MI had made a strategic error by sending Pollard in too late, but it didn’t seem to matter as the ‘other KP’ smashed 22 runs off a Bollinger over to raise MI hopes of a last-minute heist. This is where the calm and calculating Dhoni sealed the game, as he positioned CSK’s own big man Matthew Hayden at a straightish mid-off and waited for Pollard to hit one straight to the fielder. He duly obliged in the final ball of the penultimate over as CSK sealed the game in their favor.

5. Albie ‘Morkels’ Kohli (vs Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2012)

This was one of the highlights of IPL 2012 and it will not be easily forgotten by those who were following the match. CSK needed 43 runs to win from 12 balls when Dhoni got out. In comes Albie Morkel with a clear set of instructions: hit the ball as hard as you can. As luck would have it for the men in yellow, he had to tee off against Virat Kohli, not really the bowler you would want to throw up against a fearsome hitter of the ball. What followed was carnage, as 28 runs came off the penultimate over, and CSK stole an improbable victory off the last ball of the game. In a season which ultimately ended in disappointment for the team, Albie Morkel’s assault was one of the bright spots to cherish.

Another season, another opportunity for the Super Kings to shine. What do they have in store this year?

The Four who brought us Four Nil

The memories are still raw. India had been handed their second consecutive drubbing on overseas tours, and while the disastrous England tour could be blamed on the pitches and unfortunately timed injuries, it was much harder to find excuses for the thrashing down under. In the end, the 2011/12 Indian tour of Australia ensured the exits of two stalwarts and left a bad taste in the mouths of Indian fans.

When February 2013 came, there was still a bit of trepidation among Indian fans as the Australian team arrived for the return series. Harbhajan Singh proclaimed, to much derision, that India would win the series 4-0. At that point, scarred by a home series loss to England, most fans would have taken even a 1-0 win. One month later, Bhajji’s words have come true; and the only object of derision is the Australian team, who have unraveled spectacularly in the last few weeks.

Home series wins are nothing new for the Indian team; but in the context of performances over the past two years, and given the influx of inexperienced players in the squad, the 4-0 battering of the Australian team has come as balm to many fans who have weathered some horrible months recently. While there has been talk of ‘transition’ for a while now, this series has truly been the ‘turning point’ for the team, as they learned to win without major contributions from Sehwag and Harbhajan, and in the absence of Gambhir and Zaheer. The likes of Sehwag, Harbhajan and Zaheer might have played their last Tests, and another legend from Mumbai may be on his way out shortly. In fact, this series was won by four youngsters, who entered this series with contrasting reputations and differing routes to the team, but have now firmly entrenched themselves as the foundation around which the Indian team can chart new paths and create a new blueprint for success.

RETURN OF THE MONK

When Murali Vijay was retained in the squad for the Australian series, his pick was met with a a mixture of outrage and skepticism. Apart from bright performances in the two Irani games book-ending the Ranji season, his records for the year didn’t indicate that he deserved his spot. Sure enough, his dismissals in the series opener at Chennai increased the chorus of murmurs against him. What followed was an exercise in self-restraint and determination as big tons in Hyderabad and Mohali, followed by a gritty half century in Delhi proved that he has it in him to excel at the highest level.   He showed a willingness to curb his attacking instincts and do the job of a traditional opener – See off the new ball, settle down and then unfurl the full range of shots . There were times when Dhawan and Pujara got going, that he could have been tempted to accelerate as well. Instead he showcased his new-found maturity by providing able support and never relinquishing the initiatives to the the Aussies. He won neither the Man of the Series or any of the Man of the Match awards, but he ended up as the highest run-getter on either side and showed pessimistic fans that there is life beyond the famed Delhi opening combination.

CHEVOLUTION TIME

They said that it is not easy to replace a mountain of experience or tons and tons of runs in Test cricket overnight. Well, I present to you Cheteshwar Pujara. In a span of three consecutive Test series, he has proved more than an adequate replacement for one Rahul Dravid. He reeled off a double century in Hyderabad to establish complete dominance over the Aussies, but his finest innings was the authoritative 82 he scored on a tricky pitch in Delhi as an opener to take India to an unprecedented 4-0 nil whitewash of the opposition.  Bigger and tougher challenges await, but I suspect that India have found the perfect man for all occasions.

ROCKSTAR 2 – THE SIR ARISES

I will put my hand up and admit that I was one of many who was shocked with Ravindra Jadeja’s elevation to the Test squad in the series against England. He seemed to be a perfect limited overs player. He could add some valuable runs with the bat, pick a few quick wickets with the ball and field brilliantly; but he was definitely not Test material. Or so many thought. Instead, he ended the series with 24 wickets, making the finest Australian batsman his bunny and produced several acts of fielding brilliance, which the Indian Test team has lacked for years. With the bat, he didn’t score any big knocks but he calmed Indian nerves with a couple of lusty blows in Mohali and got a very valuable 40 in the first innings in Delhi. For the long run, he provides Dhoni with a lot of options when it comes to team balance. He could yet turn out to be the all rounder India desperately craves for in Tests.

SHABAASH ASH!

Ravichandran Ashwin came into this series with a bit of pressure on him. Two poor series against Australia and England, coupled with the rising Ojha and returning Harbhajan meant that the mantle of leading spinner was at stake. He had been working with his bowling coach prior to the start of the series and it showed in his first over of the series. He bamboozled the Aussie openers for a while before cutting through the top order. From there, he never let off. Shelving his infamous variations and bringing it out liberally, Ashwin deceived the batsmen with traditional off spin and ended up as the leading wicket taker and bagged the Man of the Series award for the third time in five series. With this performance, he may have effectively quelled the career of Harbhajan Singh and re-established himself as Dhoni’s leading strike bowler.