Having perfected their tactics, Chennai Super Kings will begin their title defence as favourites once again.
In the first of our nine IPL team previews, we take a look at Chennai Super Kings, the two-time winners of the lucrative Twenty20 tournament.
Name: Chennai Super Kings
Captain: MS Dhoni
Coach: Stephen Fleming
Owner: India Cements
Cost of team: $90 million
Key players: Michael Hussey, Suresh Raina and Murali Vijay – Chennai's top order – all featured in the top ten run-scorer's list last season, and that shows how reliant the team is on a strong start. Hussey's four half-centuries offered stability at the top, and his ability to hold the innings together without taking too many risks, while maintaining a strike-rate of 118.84, was massive. Raina is CSK's biggest match-winner with bat and ball, and remains their biggest hitter. Vijay wasn't as strong as in IPL3, but is a big-match player, as evident by his role in knock-out matches.
S Badrinath's name doesn't conjure up the image of a Twenty20 player, but the Tamil Nadu veteran was a star performer for CSK in IPL4, with 396 runs at 56.57 and a strike-rate of 126.51, including five half-centuries. Badrinath's ability to perform in all situations, most often after a top-order collapse, was instrumental in setting up match-winning totals and holding together chases. His best performance was an unbeaten 63 against Pune Warriors, and Badrinath was also one of the best fielders in Chennai's outfit.
Down the order and as a leader, MS Dhoni is a central figure for CSK. His reputation as a finisher does not need addressing, and with him at the crease CSK will fear no total. The new recruit, Ravindra Jadeja, fetched the highest bid in the IPL 2012 auction, being signed up by CSK for more than $2m after they beat Deccan Chargers in a secret tiebreaker. He is a good Twenty20 player, and the team will have plenty of hopes from him.
With the ball, R Ashwin and Doug Bollinger are lethal forces in Twenty20. Ashwin, now adept at bowling with the new ball, was a stand-out performer in IPL4 – most critically in the final when he took 3 for 16 – while Bollinger's hostility and precision made him one of the best fast bowlers in the competition.
Strengths: The man in charge, Dhoni, has ensured CSK have reached the final four each season. Under him, they team has won the last two IPLs as well as the Champions League Twenty20, and Dhoni's street-smart and innovative leadership has been a constant feature of CSK's dominance. Throw in his ability with the bat, and CSK have one of the most valuable Twenty20 players in the league. A strong top order aside, the presence of Badrinath, Jadeja, Albie Morkel and Dwayne Bravo in the line-up adds to their batting strength.
Weaknesses: Bollinger aside, the team lacks an all-out quick bowler. Morkel and Bravo had often leaked runs, and been targeted by the opposition. Cases in point from IPL 4 being the defeats to Kings XI Punjab, in which Morkel went for 12.66 an over, and Kochi Tuskers Kerala, where he went wicketless at 8.50. CSK also do not possess any capable Indian quick bowlers who can be relied on to back up Bollinger. In IPL 4, Bollinger's 1 for 20 in the play-off helped carry CSK into the final, but overall there is a lingering doubt over the ability of the other quicks to perform in such manner.
2011 performance: The decisions taken at the 2011 auction reaped the rewards last season. In retaining Dhoni, Raina, Vijay and Morkel ahead of the bidding, and then by buying Ashwin, Bollinger, Hussey, Badrinath and Shadab Jakati, CSK ensured they had the crop of match-winners who had helped win them the 2010 trophy. This sense of familiarity came in crucial when CSK hit roadblocks during their campaign, and it became their trump card in pressure situations.
CSK's unbeaten run at home owed to their home-grown strength, such as Vijay, Badrinath and Ashwin. This naturally attracted a boisterous and fiercely loyal Chennai audience to invigorate the team, with Dhoni going as far to say that when they played at Chepauk, CSK had 12 players on the field. When it most mattered, in the knock-outs, CSK were devastating.
2012 prospects: CSK have been the most consistent IPL team, with a reliance on home-grown talent keeping them in good stead. Having perfected their tactics over three seasons, they will begin their title defence as favourites once again. Their ability to bounce back from defeats and get it together ahead of the knock-outs was their hallmark in IPL4, and as long as they can repeat that they will remain contenders for a third straight title. Considering the final will once again be held at their home venue, the MA Chidambaram Stadium, do not rule them out of an appearance at the summit.