IPL 2022: CSK's poor auction strategy led to mid-season captaincy crisis

All eyes will be on Dhoni and Jadeja and the body language of the entire CSK team when they take on Sunrisers Hyderabad today, writes Ayaz Memon

MS Dhoni with Ravindra Jadeja. (CSK Twitter)
MS Dhoni with Ravindra Jadeja. (CSK Twitter)

By Ayaz Memon

Published: Sun 1 May 2022, 1:07 AM

The past few days in the IPL have been action-packed. Several riveting performances, some topsy-turvy results, laced by an unexpected development late Saturday when MS Dhoni was reappointed captain of the struggling Chennai Super Kings (languishing second from bottom currently) after Ravindra Jadeja decided he had had enough and stepped down.

Is this a sign of total panic in the CSK camp? Can it turn the team’s fortunes around? Only time can provide answers, but for the present, this extraordinary development has added dollops of debate and discussion to a tournament already bursting with high drama and suspense.

Captains have been changed mid-stream in the IPL previously, so this is hardly unique. David Warner was dumped last season by the Sunrisers Hyderabad, Dinesh Karthik handed over the Kolkata Knight Riders captaincy duties to Eoin Morgan. But because CSK is involved this time, it comes as a shock.

Widely regarded as the most stable of all the franchises, where loyalty, consistency and continuity are seen as integral to the cultural ethos that made the team so successful, this sudden change in captaincy is bewildering.

As one understands it, Jadeja gave up the captaincy after the team’s dismal performances where only two matches from nine have been won. This too is not unusual. Losing captains have to face the music. However, that Jadeja has taken such a precipitate decision in his first season as captain is a surprise.

Or maybe not.

As CSK’s initial setbacks started turning into a slump, it was becoming evident that MS Dhoni had assumed charge informally. While Jadeja was officially captain, he was calling the shots, certainly in field placings, but also in making bowling changes. Initially, it seemed that this was all part of Jadeja’s mentoring.

But as the defeats mounted, Jadeja’s role in the proceedings in middle started to get thinner and thinner. Something was brewing, but who knew that it would lead to Dhoni returning officially as captain!

On the face of it, the marquee franchise has gone back to its most trusted and successful hand. Dhoni’s captaincy credentials are excellent and hardly need reiteration. That he has led CSK to four IPL titles should suffice.

However, before his return to the top job, there were a host of quirky developments and decisions in CSK which belied logic and may have played no small part in the current crisis.

For instance, Dhoni’s decision to step down as captain this year had come only a couple of days before the tournament began. It is reasonable to believe that the management had been informed of this earlier by the talismanic player, and this may have been communicated to the players too.

But such a late call to surrender the captaincy when all the preparation and training had taken place under Dhoni would surely have been unsettling.

Jadeja’s elevation to captaincy did not raise eyebrows. It was a natural progression. He’s been a CSK product and stalwart for several years. Moreover, there are few better players than him on the circuit. After Dhoni and perhaps Suresh Raina, Jadeja knew best what CSK was all about.

But with CSK slipping badly from the start of this season, disenchantment with Jadeja’s leadership qualities arose quickly, creating a piquant situation for him, the players, the franchise, not forgetting Dhoni himself.

It seemed that Dhoni had never let go of the captaincy by his manner and demeanour on the field. But if he had kept himself totally aloof and impervious to CSK’s travails, he would have been perceived as indifferent to his team’s needs now that he wasn’t captain.

As the team’s most accomplished player and somebody who had been in charge for so long, it was perhaps inevitable that the management would turn to him in this hour of crisis. And Dhoni, who is synonymous with the franchise, could hardly have backed off.

However, many of these eventualities are ramifications of other developments, even preceding the start of the tournament. For instance, if there was even the slightest hint — as there must have been — that Dhoni was not keen to captain this year, why did CSK let go of last season’s star opener Faf du Plessis, who also has enormous captaincy experience, in the mega auction?

Du Plessis, Josh Hazlewood, Moeen Ali and Dwayne Bravo, all overseas recruits, performed splendidly last season. Of these, Du Plessis and Hazlewood were neither retained nor re-bought in the mega auction. Both Moeen and Du Plessis were also captaincy options, particularly the latter who had has loads of international experience of the job, while Moeen’s participation for the entire season were subject to his England commitment.

If the idea was to groom a younger man as captain, Jadeja was an apt choice rather than veterans like Ambati Rayudu and Robin Uthappa and Ruturaj Gaikwad being too young.

But after the team’s unending failures created a crisis, why not punt on someone young and let Dhoni groom him for the remainder of the season? With CSK having lost seven matches out of nine, their prospects of making it to the playoffs is extremely remote. A new face couldn’t have done worse than what has already transpired.

The view from the outside looking in is admittedly simplistic. Frankly, CSK’s choices for captain were severely curtailed, which also highlights that for a franchise which plans its campaign meticulously every year, such a contingency was not thought of, forcing them into past life regression so to speak!

Needless to say, all eyes will be on Dhoni and Jadeja and the body language of the entire CSK team when they take on Sunrisers Hyderabad on Sunday. The first match these teams played against each other this season, CSK were walloped, signalling SRH’s resurgence after a dismal start.

Since then, SRH have gone from strength to strength while CSK have moved from defeat to debacle and they are now in a full-blown crisis. Several times in the past, Dhoni has conquered such situations to lead the team to safety or glory. CSK’s management and supporters will be hoping he can do it this time too.

Sunday’s match should tell us where this particular story is headed.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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