Slider

Indian T20 League: A Look At Team Chennai’s Stunning Turnaround

Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Team Chennai have bagged their fourth Indian T20 League title by defeating Team Kolkata in the final on Friday. The stunning turnaround in fortunes comes after a disastrous season last year when they did not make it to the playoffs, making critics doubt the efficacy of Dhoni’s captaincy and his contributions with the bat. But Captain Cool once again answered his critics with the team’s performance on the ground – and he looks set to lead the team once again next season.

Here’s a recap of Team Chennai’s journey to their fourth Indian T20 League title:

BACKGROUND

Team Chennai were faced with the difficult prospect of making changes to their stable team lineup ahead of the competition given the poor results during the previous year. Murali Vijay, Piyush Chawla and Kedhar Jadhav were among the players let go while veteran opener Shane Watson has retired ahead of the season. Robin Uthappa was traded in from Team Rajasthan, while Moeen Ali became the key addition at the auctions. Former South African captain Faf du Plessis had to move up the order where he was joined by Ruturaj Gaikwad.

While Team Mumbai built the most balanced team out of all the eight teams in the Indian T20 League, Team Chennai built their team around experience and leadership. They were and remain the most senior side in the tournament when the ages of the players are taken into account. The undiminished faith that the team management placed in Dhoni despite a disastrous last season when the former Indian captain looked out of touch stands in stark contrast to Team Hyderabad’s treatment of David Warner this year.

FIRST LEG

Team Chennai kicked off their campaign with a loss against Team Delhi in the opening fixture. It seemed their troubles from the previous season were set to continue. But they quickly followed it up with a victory against Team Punjab in a low-scoring encounter in Mumbai to begin their five-match winning streak. They registered two 200+ scores in the first leg – the first against Team Kolkata and the second against their arch-rivals Team Mumbai. With five victories in seven matches in the first leg, Team Chennai were leading the table when a breach in the bubble led to a suspension of the tournament.   

A memorable highlight of the first leg was Harshal Patel’s over in the Team Chennai vs Team Bangalore fixture. Team Chennai were 154/4 at the end of the 19th over, when Team Bangalore’s breakthrough bowler was given the ball to try and contain the score. Ravindra Jadeja then went ballistic, scoring five sixes and a four to score 37 runs – the joint-highest record for most runs scored in an over.

SECOND LEG

The second leg of the Indian T20 League 2021 saw the tournament return to the UAE – where Team Chennai struggled last year. An opening fixture against Team Mumbai awaited them. They were defeated by Rohit Sharma’s men in the first leg courtesy of a last-over flourish from Kieron Pollard. But Team Chennai headed into the fixture with confidence, and Ruturaj Gaikwad’s 88-run unbeaten knock gave them a comfortable victory. Three successive victories against Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad followed, securing their place in the playoffs – and it looked like Team Chennai were all set to finish the season at the top of the table.

But once the team secured their place in the playoffs, Team Chennai looked like they lost their way once again – losing three matches in a row, with middle-order troubles plaguing the team. The batting performances of Dhoni were particularly criticised once again for his poor finishes. At one stage, he scored just 52 runs from 10 matches with a paltry average of 10.4, on the same pitches the team’s openers were scoring runs at a blistering pace and Ravindra Jadeja flourished in the final overs.

PLAYOFFS

The three losses meant that Team Chennai finished second in the table behind Team Delhi, but it was good enough to earn them a spot in the first qualifier. Team Delhi, batting first, put on a total of 172 runs for the three-time champions to chase. Faf du Plessis was removed early in the first over by Nortje and Robin Uthappa was promoted to the third spot. He combined with Ruturja Gaikwad to put on a 110-run partnership for the second wicket, keeping Team Chennai in the hunt. Team Chennai needed 23-runs off the last 11 balls when Dhoni turned back the clock to score 13 runs off the next five balls, sealing the match for Team Chennai.

This was Team Chennai’s ninth-final in the 13 seasons of the Indian T20 League – yet they were chasing only their fourth title. Team Kolkata’s run to the final has been inspirational, but they couldn’t match the experience that Team Chennai possessed in the finals. An 86-run innings by Faf du Plessis gave them a strong start, while Robin Uthappa and Moeen Ali posted 68 runs in 35 balls to take them to 192 runs. Team Kolkata started off on a strong note as Shubman Gill and Venkatesh Iyer put on 91 runs for the first wicket, but Josh Hazlewood and Shardul Thakur tore through the middle order to contain Team Kolkata to 165, earning them their fourth title.

With Dhoni set to remain captain of Team Chennai, the auctions will be looked at keenly to see what changes Team Chennai would make to their squad.