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Cricket news - The curious case of CSK's batting woes
Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo. You'll be hard pushed to find a rival for this batting line-up in the IPL. Royal Challengers Bangalore may have the best two in the business, the Delhi Capitals may own the cream of India's youth and the Knight Riders may have Andre Russell, but in cricket as in politics - 2 + 2 is not always equal to 4.
Yet, for all the pedigree in the line-up, CSK have had a dire season with the bat so far, with only MS Dhoni aggregating more than 250 (314 at 104.67) so far. "We've got a very talented batting order, which has been, you'd say, consistent throughout the years. You look at the side on paper and you'd say it's a strength, but unfortunately, we just haven't been able to string together partnerships or individual scores this year," head coach Stephen Fleming remarked after the close loss to the RCB.
What's ailing this once powerful batting failure?
Problems at the top
Last year, in his first season with CSK, Shane Watson amassed 555 runs at an eye popping strike-rate of 155.4 and a hundred to win the title in the final. Cut to 2019, his runs tally stands at 147, the average has fallen down to 14.7 and he scores at 112 for every 100 balls. The all-rounder has been backed by the franchise, but with every failure, CSK are forced into deliberation, particularly with his bowling skills no longer put to use. Watson, who thrived on the truer surface in Pune last year, has suffered on the sluggish Chepauk, despite coming into the tournament with a Player of the Series' winning performance in the 'Pakistan Super League'.
Watson's inability to force the pace has had a domino effect on his partner, Faf du Plessis. Unlike Watson, du Plessis missed several matches in the early stages of the tournament and so his 178 runs from 6 innings looks robust. Cast an eye on his strike-rate though and it's not any better than Watson's. It has left CSK with two openers, both of whom, haven't managed to make the most of the batting powerplay, thereby putting the rest of the unit under severe pressure
For as long as the IPL's lasted, Suresh Raina has been the heartbeat of his team's batting, scoring at least 350 or more runs in each season. This year though, the numbers have come down and his technique further exposed. His first-ball dismissal by Dale Steyn in CSK's latest loss to RCB could well form one of the highlight package of this season's tournament. 207 runs at an average of 23 is one of the poorest returns for Raina in the IPL - a startling stat considering he was expected to be the bulwark of scoring, on pitches that should ideally be suited to his stroke-making abilities.
The nineties men
It has been a tough journey for Amabti Rayudu this IPL season - not only has scoring runs been a struggle, but the lack of '3D skills' saw him lose out to Vijay Shankar for a place in the 15-man World Cup bound squad. From a high of 602 runs last season, Rayudu's 192 runs comes have come at an average of 24 and a poor strike-rate of 91. But Rayudu isn't the only CSK batsman who has found scoring hard. Slipping quietly under the radar is his former India team-mate, Kedar Jadhav. His strike-rate of 98 defies someone who's known to have the ability to nurdle and nudge the balls into the gaps and then suddenly open up with a pressure releasing shot.
But, can only the square turners be the reason for the duo's uncharacteristic performances?
"You can't try too hard, so it's very hard to try and deliver messages when on the one hand the game, we've got to be positive and aggressive and take calculated risks. So the balance of what we say to the players and what they take out in the middle is very important," Fleming said, arguing that the lack of runs in Chennai is showing its effects at the other venues as well.
Injuries and rustiness
At 7 and 8, Jadeja and Bravo, form an intrinsic part of CSK's lower order batting. While the latter has been mostly sidelined with an injury, the former, barring his finish against Kolkata Knight Riders, hasn't managed to quite leave up to his all-rounder billing. In all fairness, Jadeja is more of a grafter than one who can hit the ball hard, but in a team that has plenty of riches, his batting - at number seven, has been a let-down.
"We were being a little bit reckless, and that just comes from guys trying to find form and do the job. But what's happening is we're relying too heavily on Dhoni and Rayudu to patch things up, and we won't win the competition if that continues. So whilst we've been able to get seven wins, we're by no means happy with the way we've achieved all of them. We're happy to be crossing the line, but we'd like to see some form creeping back into the top order," Fleming said, in a terse note for the other batsmen to buckle up.
Yet, for all their problems, CSK still find themselves at the top of the ladder and with four games to go, it's not hard to envisage them entering playoffs once again - their 10th in 10 seasons. It's been only Dhoni and the bowlers so far. What if the batsmen join the party in the final stages?
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