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There could not have been a better fairy tale end to the 2021 IPL season. At the end of the 2020 season in the UAE, after not qualifying for the Playoffs for the first-ever time, finishing seventh in the table, Chennai Super Kings captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni promised to come back stronger in 2021.
Little did Dhoni know then that IPL would return to the UAE in 2021 for CSK to set the record straight. As things turned out, the pandemic forced IPL 2021 in India to be suspended after 29 matches and shift the remaining matches to the UAE. That was enough for Dhoni and CSK to walk the talk.
Belief, confidence, trust, faith… You can add similar words to identify CSK with. Belief is what the CSK franchise has had in its captain Dhoni since the inception of IPL. Belief is what CSK has in its coaching staff and Stephen Fleming, who has been synonymous with the Team in Yellow since time immemorial. Belief is what the coach and the captain have in their players, irrespective of age. Not just in 2021, when they won their fourth IPL title, one short of Mumbai Indians, who won their fifth title last year.
It was the belief in the same group of players that CSK had and they did not change their squad by much. They roped in Robin Uthappa at the start of this year after Rajasthan Royals released him. They got England’s Moeen Ali in the February auctions. CSK believed in these not-so-young legs and banked on their experience, like they did with other seasoned campaigners.
That experience has paid off time and again for CSK. Despite not making good his opportunities in the last couple of league matches, CSK persisted with Uthappa, who repaid the faith the team had in him by scoring that match-winning half-century in Qualifier 1. And in the final, Uthappa did chip in with some big hits that helped CSK along the way to a title-winning 192/3, good enough for them to emerge triumphant by 27 runs in the end.
CSK kept belief in Ruturaj Gaikwad late last year that the young talent grew better with every outing and continued that roaring form this season to win the Orange Cap by amassing 635 runs. CSK kept their belief in the mixture of youth and experience right at the top of the order.
What a remarkable opening pair Gaikwad and the South African veteran Faf du Plessis turned out to be for CSK! du Plessis matched Gaikwad’s exuberance of youth with his vast international experience to fall just two short of his partner’s tally. When your two openers score a combined tally of 1,268 runs, you are sure to start well and, more often than not, finish well. That’s what CSK did this season. And, du Plessis chose the big stage on Friday night in Dubai to come up with a majestic 86 and take CSK beyond Kolkata Knight Riders’ reach.
CSK continued to have its belief in Ambati Rayudu and his game-changing abilities. It is just that Rayudu did not get to bat in the final. Any other team may have looked for a replacement after a batsman has failed in his previous outings. Rayudu had three single digit scores in his last four outings, but CSK believed in him to come good if the team was in a crisis.
It is the long, extended run that CSK gives its players that makes the players feel secure in the group. Like Uthappa has often said in recent times, CSK believed in its players and kept a secure environment, trusting in the players’ abilities. This belief in them makes the players want to give their all to the franchise.
CSK has belief in Dwayne Bravo to bowl in the death and use the slower ones to terrorising effect that makes him a potent force with the ball. And, CSK still has belief in the West Indian to perform with the bat and tonk the ball when it requires quick runs.
It is the belief that CSK had over the years in Deepak Chahar that has made the right-arm medium-pacer a regular T20 India player. His ability to strike in the Power Play and also in the middle overs makes Chahar a force to reckon with.
CSK does not believe in the age of its players. So much has been made about the age of the CSK players in the past. But, CSK looked at it in a positive way and believed in the experience of the ageing players. It is the experience, like their coach Fleming said at the final presentation ceremony, which will take the team through tough times and guide the youngsters through those challenging phases as they have seen it and done that umpteen times before.
And, that’s what makes CSK a winning side and a very popular franchise in the sport.
Players may have an off game or two, but CSK does not lose faith in them. CSK believes in the ability of the players to bounce back and perform when their neck is on the line. Ask Uthappa what he felt after last Sunday’s Qualifier 1. Ask Moeen Ali for the kind of belief CSK had in him throughout the tournament, in his ability to hit long and take wickets or curtail the run flow with his off-breaks, not to mention his catching abilities.
And, when you have a motivational captain in Dhoni and a trusted lieutenant in Ravindra Jadeja in your ranks, CSK automatically gets the belief of winning more often than not.
CSK got eight runs short of 200 in the final after being sent in by Kolkata Knight Riders. That was, in itself, a match-winning score. Even when KKR openers, the young Shubman Gill and Venkatesh Iyer gave them a bright start, CSK and Dhoni believed in his bowlers to stop the run flow. And, wickets fell regularly.
CSK believed that once the KKR openers were separated, the middle-order would cave in. Such has been the pathetic form of KKR captain Eoin Morgan that CSK believed in half the battle already won when the England limited-overs captain was at the crease. That belief in their bowlers delivering repeatedly paved the way for their fourth IPL title.
It is this belief in itself, in its players and in winning titles that makes CSK a franchise to die for. A sea of yellow follows wherever CSK plays. Be it in South Africa, as was seen in the 2009 IPL, be it in the UAE last year or this year, not to mention everywhere that they went to play in India, CSK are the most loved franchise. The belief that CSK has in its players has been well understood by the fans and that has made the supporters believe in this team.
Die-hard CSK fans across all age groups go to any extent to extend their support to CSK. From tiny tots to the 80- and 90-year-olds, fans believe in Dhoni and his magic wand.
The seeds of this belief were sown in the first IPL auction in 2008 when the late VB Chandrasekhar, then director-operations and selector of Chennai Super Kings, used his calculative intelligence to obtain Dhoni for a mind-boggling price and at the same time form the core of the CSK side in the initial years with the available money. The CSK owner, N Srinivasan, had belief in Chandrasekhar’s selection that he told others not to interfere in his choice of players.
Chandrasekhar believed that Dhoni could become a youth icon and make the franchise popular among the masses as Tamil Nadu cricket did not have a big name like, say Mumbai Indians had Sachin Tendulkar or KKR had Sourav Ganguly or Deccan Chargers had VVS Laxman or Royal Challengers Bangalore had Rahul Dravid. Chandrasekhar believed in Dhoni and the captain only grew in stature, both in international cricket and in IPL.
When you have belief in your abilities, like Dhoni has in his team and gives his players self-confidence, then you can conquer the world.
In this case, CSK has conquered IPL for the fourth time and the thirst to excel does not stop here. For, CSK believes in its team to win many more in the years to come.