Chennai Super Kings’ facile win over Delhi Capitals in Friday’s Qualifier 2 of the IPL caught a lot of people by surprise. Within an hour of play, the Delhi top order had been creamed off and thereafter it became increasingly a one-horse race.
Both teams had reached this stage on contrasting fashion: CSK with a longish sequence of defeats, saved only by the points accumulated earlier to finish in the top two in the league; DC, after a mercurial start to the tournament, brimming with confidence after several wins on the trot.
Moreover, CSK had looked ragged from exhaustion and without any mojo in the first play-off against Mumbai, while DC had staved off a late bid by Sunrisers Hyderabad with style, confidence and manifest desire.
On Friday, the odds were stacked against CSK. The flair and form exhibited by DC — as also the youthfulness — not only made them the more attractive team, but also suggested greater probability of winning.
What triggered CSK’s revival is difficult to pinpoint. Experience, of course, is their strength But they were flagging approaching the end of the tournament. Perhaps it was a timely second wind. Or does it have something to do with team ethos?
In the past 12 years, CSK have won the title thrice. So too have Mumbai Indians which defines the consistency and calibre of both teams. But CSK have entered the final eight times, in itself a remarkable achievement.
What makes it extraordinary is that the third title came on their return to the IPL in 2018 after a two-year suspension on corruption issues. This smear could have been soul-destroying. Instead, it appeared to become their strength.
While emotions among fans overflowed few critics gave CSK a chance to win in 2018 despite their past record. While the core of the team had been retained or rebought, could they regroup and jell as they had done earlier?
Also, there were quite a few new faces, some of them seniors off-loaded by other franchises. How would they fit in? Overall, the squad chosen leaned heavily on the side of experience. But this also came with a disadvantage, what with several players in their mid-30s.
It was widely believed that CSK might not last a gruelling full season. But with a point to prove, they did it with resilience and purpose to go with skill and style.
All players and teams want to win. The best do so not necessarily with the biggest stars or the most scintillating talent as has been proved time and again in the IPL.
The clear ingredients for consistent success are a strong management, high quality players, some luck of course, but even more importantly, robust processes, well-defined responsibilities and collective will to win.
It helped CSK in 2018 that there have been few upheavals in key personnel. The coach and support staff has been constant, the captain’s been the same right through, as has been the core team.
Importantly, the assimilation of new players was swift and hassle free. This helps create a common mindset — always difficult in a team sport — and keep focus on the end objective, which in turn enables players/team take victory and setback with composure.
In this, the captain is obviously the critical factor. Dhoni’s cult status stems not from mere romanticism, but from the sustained success he’s delivered to his team ever since the IPL started.
But all that is in the past. How does CSK square up against Mumbai Indians for tomorrow’s final?
On paper, Mumbai boast a younger side but better balanced and with greater number of matchwinners. Psychologically too, Mumbai have the upper hand. The two teams have met thrice this season and CSK have lost all three times.
Knocked off before the play-offs last year, Mumbai are playing for pride as well as the title. Going by their performances in the past few games, they have the momentum. But the final is always a different ball game.
Everything that’s happened in the past is inconsequential. What matters is form, guts, skill and ambition on the day. Rohit Sharma
& Co would know that dropping their guard even for an over or two against a team like CSK could be perilous.