My Thoughts

I have been following Indian cricket since early 90’s and never have I seen such an injury ravaged touring in my life time. When India landed in Australia on 12th November 2020, they already were missing Ishant Sharma and Rohit Sharma and knew that their captain Virat Kohli will be leaving the team after the first Test. The tour started off with the ODI series for India and by the first T20, India had already lost Jadeja to injury. This meant that the genial all-rounder had to miss the first Test at Adelaide.

Despite that one could argue that the Indian team that played the Adelaide Test was almost at full strength and was only missing the services of Ishant Sharma. Rohit Sharma isn’t a regular in Tests yet and India seldom play Jadeja and Ashwin together overseas. But again when the first Test was completed under bizarre circumstances with the tourist getting bowled out for just 36 the lost further two personnel. While Virat’s exit was already known the injury to Mohammad Shami was a body blow for an already depleted Indian attack.

While India had to pick themselves up from the disaster of Adelaide they also had to dig deep into their reserves to get a good XI on the field. The failure of Prithvi Shaw meant Shubman Gill made his debut. Mayank Agarwal who was a main stay of Indian top order was struggling with his unusually high backlift which he probably picked up during his IPL stint. The Indian team fought hard and beat the confident hosts proving all comers wrong with their resilience and courage.

while things were looking good for the tourists finally injury to Umesh Yadav further dented the Indian team which was already missing 3 of their first choice players. A confident Indian team landed in Sydney knowing that Rohit Sharma will be available to open the batting along with Gill in the 3rd Test. The Sydney Test began with Jasprit Bumrah leading the attack. While Bumrah is extremely talented and has been the spearhead for India in all formats, we need to remember that he has just played 16 Tests himself. He had Mohammad Siraj who had made his debut in Melbourne and Navdeep Saini making his debut as his bowling partners. The Test was remarkable for more than one reason. While the Indian team did pull out one of the most brilliant and resilient batting performances in recent times they also lost Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah and Hanuma Vihari in the process.

Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul who would have been the next choice of players to make the XI got themselves injured in the nets. While Agarwal awaits scan reports, KL Rahul is probably sipping a cup of team at home watching the game on TV. The Indian team has been hit with unprecedented bout of injuries which was least expected at the start of the series but the one heartening thing though is the fight shown by the players. The credit should be given to the team management on the tour and the unassuming yet strong leadership of Ajinkya Rahane. This series will be memorable for more than one reason but the nothing can be bigger than the courage the team has shown despite adversities.

The Indian team might struggle to put together a good solid playing XI for their toughest game of the series but again you wouldn’t bet against them giving a tough time to the Aussies. The Australia team at full strength at home has struggled to dominate a injury hit Indian team at home. This shows the bench strength of the Indian side and also the mental strength of the team to keep fighting no matter what the situation is.

The Indian team may not be able to put together a strong XI for the final Test but the Aussies will know that this touring team surely has one last fight left in them to make it hard for the hosts. With the Border-Gavaskar trophy on the line the hosts are under more pressure than the tourists who have nothing to lose going into the final Test.

Wicket-Keeping is a crucial component in a Test team. There is a reason why teams don’t compromise on quality of keeping in Tests as opposed to the shorter formats. While all Test teams have decent to good wicket-Keeping batsmen, India have struggled to find one since the retirement of the legendary MS Dhoni.

The Test keeping spot for India has been quite a game of musical chairs between Wriddhiman Saha amd Rishabh Pant. While Saha is the better keeper of the two his batting has been less than inspiring and hasn’t been of Test quality. Gone are the days when Test teams select a wicket keeper for just their good glove work. Almost every Test side in the world now has a wicket keeper who can bat really well. For India it has been a dilemma at least in the Test arena as while Rishabh Pant is an exciting bat his keeping against especially spin is lot left to be desired.

Pant has already dropped 4 chances in the Test and a half he has kept wickets in the ongoing series and things haven’t changed much since the last time he was dropped. Saha on the the other hand is known for his excellent glove work but again age isn’t on his side and his batting has dipped to a level of not being of international standard. The Indian team though over the last 5 years since the retirement of MS Dhoni from this format haven’t tried any other options which makes it very difficult to come up with a replacement immediately.

The Indian management and the selection committee need to dig deeper into the domestic system to bring out a good wicket-keeping batter for Tests. Indian domestic system has 30+ FC teams and it is hard to believe that they cannot find one wicket-keeper who can keep better than Pant and can score runs as well. While Pant is a good batter his glove work needs lots of work and international cricket isn’t the place to learn your trade. Parthiv Patel another youngster who had a brilliant Test series down under in 2003/04 was dropped because of his poor keeping which cost India a series win. Rishabh Pant despite his mouthwatering stroke play needs to spend more time in domestic cricket and work with coaches to improve his glove work if he wants to represent India has a Test wicket keeper.

The problem for India is that even when we look at the IPL squads except for Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan there aren’t many promising young keepers in any of the franchises. Most teams have an overseas wicket-keeper which isn’t helping much with unearthing talent for Indian team. While I am not suggesting we pick a Test wicket keeper based on IPL performance, we at least would have some idea about their skills with the glove in a high pressure tournament.

Right now in the ongoing series India do not have many options but in the future though the selectors need to think about giving opportunities to other young keepers in the domestic system. India will soon be playing at home where keeping against Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja will be crucial and they cannot have Rishabh Pant in the current form to be doing that. Going back to Saha will be a step back as well. If India wants to be a force in Test cricket they need a keeper who makes less mistakes and is reliable behind the wicket and at the moment Rishabh Pant is not that.

We are in the final week of the round robin stage of IPL2020 and the playoff spots are still up for grabs. Mumbai Indians with 16 points are almost in but again they would feel safe with another win under their belt. The fantastic thing about this season is that all the teams except for Chennai Super Kings have an outside chance of making the playoffs. Kings XI Punjab who looked like being down and out after first 7 games have made an incredible comeback winning 5 games on the bounce to become one of the top contenders for the playoff spot. Kolkata Knight Riders have had a mixed tournament. They surely haven’t been consistent but again they have done enough to keep themselves in the race.

Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan Royals though have been hanging by a thread and possibly have an outside chance of making it if they win both their games and other results go their way. The two top teams of this years IPL Royal Challenges Bangalore and Delhi Capitals though have seen their season take turn for the worse in the latter part of the tournament. DC who have been brilliant in this years tournament have had very poor last few games. They have not only been losing but the losses have been heavy as well. Their 88 run loss to SRH has given the latter a lot of hope but has dented DC’s NRR pretty badly. RCB who have been very consistent in this years IPL have now lost two games in a row making their qualification path slightly more complicated.

This season has been extremely competitive and the most dangerous team in the coming days is going to be CSK. The men in yellow have nothing to lose and they would want to end the season on a high. The next few days is going to be crucial for all the sides in the competition. While the top 3 sides want to finally confirm their playoff spots, the rest of the 4 are battling to topple one of them into the playoffs as well.

DC and RCB have been brilliant this season but their recent reversal in results would have surely caused some jitters in their camp. Both these teams have been in these situations in the past an they surely would want to avoid that from happening again this season. RR and SRH who at max can reach 14 points would not only want to win their remaining games but would also want to improve their NRR as there is bound to be tie at number 4 in the table.

This years IPL in the UAE has been exciting and close and the final week is no different. With as many as 7 teams in the running for 4 spots, the tournament has been one of the best in history of IPL. All the teams would want to make one last push towards the playoff spots and it will be interesting to see who gets there.

Every time an Indian national squad is announced there is always controversy. Fans and experts alike question selections, express disappointment over someone missing out and there is conspiracy theories always floating around. The three squads announced for the Australian tour wasn’t immune to that either. But again the T20I squad garnered the most criticism. Lets look at the T20 squad and analyse the “Controversial”
picks in more detail.

Team India T20I squad: Virat Kohli (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul (vice-captain and wicket-keeper), Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Sanju Samson (wicket-keeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Varun Chakravarthy

The T20I squad garnered the most criticism and critique from the fans and experts alike. The biggest controversy or mystery is the omission of Rohit Sharma. Rohit has been absent from the Mumbai Indians playing XI for the past 3 games and also I am sure BCCI would have consulted the franchise medical staff before making the call. There is no way BCCI would omit their star limited overs player with hearsay or half baked information. There is a reason why Rohit hasn’t been picked for the tour. The fact that MI posted on social media about Rohit practicing after squad announcement is highly unprofessional as despite that he did not partake in an important clash against RCB last night. Considering there isn’t much time between the end of IPL and the beginning of the Australian tour, I feel the call was right.

The next controversy was with the omission of Rishabh Pant from the T20I side. I am a big fan of Rishabh but again I need to be objective about a player. Yes he is brilliant and yes he is very talented but lets look at his numbers just to stay little fair on the players picked. Pant has played 28 T20Is for India and has an average of 20 at a SR of 121. Not earth shattering numbers by any means. His IPL season this year so far has been mixed bag. He hasn’t been his belligerent best and has shown lack of form over the last year or so. Sanju Samson got a lot of criticism from experts for his lack of good FC scores but again we are talking about T20 games. Yes Sanju himself isn’t the most consistent or reliable but when Pant was given 28 games to prove himself, I feel we can at least give Samson 3 more games to show his mettle.

The other contentious spot in the squad was the selection of Varun Chakravarthy. Yes Varun is a reasonably unknown commodity and not many people rate him as a spinner. He has had a great season so far for KKR but again the argument is that there are better spinners available than Varun in India. Fair enough, the only other player who I thought could have been picked is Kuldeep Yadav as he has brilliant T20 numbers but again his bowling has been on the decline in LO formats over the last 18 months. Yes there is Ravi Bishnoi and Rahul Chahar but again I don’t see selection of a young spinner is that bad as it is made to be. It does seem like the selectors have picked him based on his IPL2020 performance but again that’s fine as both spinners I mentioned above is a future star and will be picked soon in the Indian XI. Yes Varun might not be the best spinner in India but again his selection isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. Krunal Pandya and Axar Patel compete directly with Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar. They both are bowling all-rounders and Varun has been picked as a specialist bowler. Sundar and Jadeja have been very good in shorter formats and their bowling this IPL has been brilliant as well. Jadeja especially has been batting brilliantly for CSK. So I don’t see any controversy in their selection.

The one player who even I though should have been in the T20I squad is Suryakumar Yadav. He has been brilliant in IPL for years and it is strange that he does not get picked for the national side. He once again proved last night how amazing he is in this format and I hope that the selectors give him a chance soon in both the LO format. He is a deserving player and should have been part of this squad to Australia.

This is just a 16 member squad and not everyone can get into the XI. There have been few people preferred over the other and while we can argue the merit of others who haven’t been picked, we cannot deny the talent of the people who are in the squad. The rest of the squad is on the expected lines except for the return of Shikhar Dhawan at the top and the addition of Mayank Agarwal in T20 after his brilliant season for KXIP this year so far.

Overall I feel that even though the T20I squad hasn’t impressed everyone, the selectors haven’t done a horrible job as it is made out to be. They have picked the best available players on merit and I don’t see this as a disaster. Everyone might feel someone someone else would have been a better choice in the squad but again that would be in the hindsight.

The T20I and Test squads were announced by BCCI yesterday and while majority of the personnel were as expected there are some interesting selections in both formats. The biggest controversy though is the absence of Rohit Sharma. Rohit who has been missing in the last few games for Mumbai Indians has been left out sparking some speculation regarding the seriousness of his injury. MI management posting that Rohit is back in the nets and is getting ready to play the rest of the games has created some confusion regarding the the star batsman’s current condition.

BCCI though have mentioned that they will monitor his status and will take a call regarding his inclusion. The rest of the squad though had some interesting choices. Varun Chakravarthy who has had a brilliant IPL for KKR has been chosen as the spinner in the T20I squad in place of Kuldeep Yadav. Kuldeep hasn’t been at his best in shorter format for over a year now and him not getting enough chances for his franchise also might have played a part. The T20 squad already has Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar. Hardik Pandya returns to the Indian squad after missing in action due to injury for a while. The rest of the pace attack for the shorter format remains on the expected lines with Navdeep Saini retaining his spot.

Mayank Agarwal gets a go in the T20 team after a stellar IPL2020 and Sanju Samson gets another chance ahead of Rishabh Pant as the lone wicketkeeper in the squad. While Rohit Sharma’s absence does leave a huge void in the squad Shikhar Dhawan returning to the top gives the team the much needed experience in the batting department. BCCI have gone with the performers from the ongoing IPL but again it will be interesting to see how they will perform in a tough Australian tour.

T20I Squad to Australia: Virat Kohli (C), Shikhar Dhawan, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul (VC & WK), Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Sanju Samson (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Varun Chakravarthy

The ODI squad though is very similar to the T20 one. The biggest surprise though is KL Rahul being the lone wicket-keeper in the squad. Shubman Gill is back in the ODI squad and Mayank Agarwal retains his spot in the team. Prithvi Shaw who was part of the Indian ODI squad to New Zealand does not find a place this time and Kuldeep Yadav returns after being dropped from the T20 team. Shardul Thakur is back in the ODI team and this series also marks the return of Hardik Pandya in all three formats. Ravindra Jadeja retains his all-rounder spot and Yuzvendra Chahal is the other spinner in the ODI team. In the absence of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul doubles up as the deputy to Virat Kohli in the shorter formats on the tour to Australia.

India’s ODI squad to Australia:Virat Kohli (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Shubman Gill, KL Rahul (vice-captain & wicket-keeper), Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Mayank Agarwal, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur

The Test team though has very less surprises. Rohit Sharma once again is absent from the squad which means that KL Rahul makes a come back as an opener. There is Pritvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal as well who mostly will be the first choice openers at the start. Shubman Gill also has been retained in the squad to provide another opening option. The spin department has the regular 3 spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav. Ishant Sharma’s injury means Mohammad Siraj gets another opportunity in the Test team and Navdeep Saini retains his spot in the squad.

Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah round of a varied and good pace attack. India for sure will miss Ishant Sharma as he has been India’s best bowler over the last couple of years and has helped maintain pressure from one end consistently. Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane retain their middle order spots along with Hanuma Vihari who might play based on the team composition. Hardik Pandya also makes a return as a pace bowling all-rounder after missing in action due to injury.

While there are some controversial selections in the T20 and ODI squads the Test team except for the absence of Rohit Sharma probably is the best they could have done. Mohammad Siraj who has been one of the best domestic bowlers for India over the last few years gets another deserved chance and I hope he gets to play in the XI. The Australian series is scheduled immediately after the IPL and the Indian team will be short of practice in the longer format. It will be interesting how the team cope with this new normal and against a team which will be very tough to beat at home.

Test Squad for Australia: Virat Kohli (c), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Mohd. Siraj

Chennai Super Kings haven’t had the greatest of seasons so far. With just 3 wins from 9 games their chances of getting to the playoffs is thinning with every loss. Their loss against Delhi Capitals over the weekend was a must win game to keep their confidence going but again despite putting up a good total their bowling and fielding let that chance slip.

While Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab kept their hopes alive with a moral boosting win, they also put a lot of pressure on CSK and Rajasthan Royals. CSK not only lost the game against Delhi Capitals, they also lost their star all-rounder Dwayne Bravo to injury. Losing him mid game and having to bowl Ravindra Jadeja in the final over cost them dearly. This would also mean that they would have to change their team combination once again. CSK haven’t been able to field a settled combination so far this season and Bravo’s absence is not going to be easy.

The middle order batting options isn’t something which is abundant in CSK’s arsenal. They only have Kedar Jadhav and Narayan Jagadeesan in their squad to fill that slot. The other decision they need to make is between Josh Hazlewood and Lungi Ngidi. Kedhar Jadhav had a poor IPL and was a regular for CSK in the first few games. He isn’t bowling anymore which means that he needs to play only as a batter in the XI. He really struggled with the bat this season and him not being the fastest mover on the field might weigh heavy in the decision making process. Jagadeesan played only one game for CSK and scored 30 odd, it would be unfair to not give him another chance in the XI.

The other option Dhoni & Co have is playing an extra spinner in Piyush Chawla in place of Bravo which also might be one of the discussion points. The other pickle CSK have is that with Bravo missing they need to plug their death bowling void. Bravo and Shardul Thakur did that for CSK in the last few games and with the former injured they need to decide between Hazlewood and Ngidi for that spot. Ngidi does seem the natural choice but again Hazlewood provides CSK with wickets with the new ball. It will be a tough call for the team management ahead of their all important game against Rajasthan Royals.

Making change to the playing XI is always tough but doing it when you are not particularly performing well as a team is even more difficult. CSK will know that any more slip up would mean that their chances of making it to the final four will almost be over. This is a must win the pressure is enormous on MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming.

My Playing XI:

Sam Curran, Faf Du Plessis, Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, N Jagadeesan/Piyush Chawla, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Karn Sharma, Lungi Ngidi

The IPL has just reached it’s half way mark and this is when the tournament starts to get interesting. There are always a few teams clubbed together on the points table with very less margin for error. Rajasthan Royals are one such team who are involved in a mid table scrum with few other teams in the tournament. With 3 wins and 5 losses, RR are still very much in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs but again they would need to fix their batting order confusion before it is too late.

RR started the tournament with Yashasvi Jaiswal opening the batting with captain Steven Smith in the absence of Jos Buttler. Once Buttler returned Jaiswal wasn’t picked anymore until later with Steven Smith opening the batting in the first few games. All this while they had a solid experienced opener Robin Uthappa in the XI playing in the middle order. RR have been all over the place with their batting order. They haven’t been able to be consistent with the batting order which means that none of their batters are settled in a particular batting position. Steven Smith himself has moved around quite a bit and so did Sanju Samson.

Ben Stokes who returned to RR mid tournament found himself opening the batting out of nowhere in his very first game. Stokes as well all know is a brilliant middle order bat for England in limited overs format. He has done brilliantly as a finisher for England in all formats and has been brilliant for them in positions 5 and 6. Ben Stokes has so far played 121 LO games and he hasn’t opened one in those number of games. His strongest position has been number 5 for England and it is hard to understand the rationale behind sending him to open the batting by the RR team management.

Rajasthan Royals do have issues with the middle order where they for sure lack experience and Ben Stokes coming in at number 5 would be the ideal scenario for their team. They have young Riyan Parag and Rahul Tewatia batting lower down the order and having Stokes guiding them would mean they would finish more games successfully. Robin Uthappa at number 5 hasn’t been working for RR but again him at the top of the order would give the perfect balance to the batting order. Uthappa has been Indian ODI opener and has opened successfully for KKR for years and it boggles my mind why RR would keep him lower down the order.

Uthappa not only has the shots to score quickly, he can drop anchor and bat through if Buttler gets going as well. This would mean Steven Smith, Sanju Samson, Ben Stokes, Riyan Parag, Rahul Tewatia would make a brilliant middle order for RR. Rajasthan Royals have toyed with that opening spot since the start of the tournament and they haven’t been able to settle on the same yet. Ben Stokes did score 41 in last nights game but again RR did lose the match in the end as they lacked experienced finisher at 5 or 6. Stokes value to RR would surely be in the middle order and not at the top. RR don’t have much room for mistake anymore and they have reached a point in the tournament where every game is almost a must win. They would have to settle their batting order soon and if they do that consistency in results will follow.

Right batting order for RR:

Jos Buttler, Robin Uthappa, Steven Smith, Sanju Samson, Ben Stokes, Riyan Parag, Rahul Tewatia, Shreyas Gopal, Jofra Archer, Jaydev Unadkat, Kartik Tyagi

Royal Challengers Bangalore were one of the most expensive teams in the IPL when the league was formed in 2008. The team has always been one of the most hyped teams in the league and always boasted of prime stars from around the world. Even though they have always been a strong side, title success has evaded RCB till now. The biggest problem for RCB over the years have been their lack of clarity in selection.

This season though starting with the auctions last year there seems to be clarity in thinking from the RCB management. Their squad as usual is brilliant this year as well but the major difference right selection of personnel according to what they were missing. For example over the last few seasons RCB were struggling with the opening combination and their selection of Devdutt Padikkal and Aaron Finch has plugged that gap. This also meant that Virat Kohli can play in his regular number 3 spot and does not have to open the innings. They also picked up the talented Adam Zampa as the spin bowling backup and all-rounder Chris Morris after a bidding war in the last years auction. Morris who has been in amazing form with the ball in the two games he has played so far has ended their pace bowling worries.

The most important thing this season has also been their consistency in selection of the XI. They did play around with few positions which lots of teams have to do in the initial part of the season but again they seem to have identified their core pretty soon this year. Their top order looks set and the bowling attack of Chris Morris, Navdeep Saini, Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal are almost certain to carry on. This means that Virat Kohli can play around with the rest of the positions and move players in and out knowing very well that they have a settled core who are performing brilliantly so far.

Virat Kohli himself returning to form was the final piece in the puzzle. RCB always rely on Virat and AB De Villiers to provide them with consistent runs and the former’s lack of form at the start of the season was a worry for the management. Virat though the champion that he is has returned to his best over the last few games and is looking in great touch now and with ABD firing as well RCB seem to have peaked at the right time. The tournament is just at the half way stage and with 10 points in 7 games, it will be hard to bet against RCB reaching the playoffs. They have a fantastic group of players who are all performing together in unison and who knows this might finally be the year where they break their title drought.

Chennai Super Kings have had a horrible start to IPL2020 with just 2 wins in 7 games. This is not the first time the men in yellow have found themselves in such a quagmire. They were in similar situation in 2010 as well. That time though they won 5 out of their next 7, reached the playoffs and then eventually beat Mumbai Indians in the finals to win their first IPL title. The biggest difference between then and now is not only the personnel but also the will to pull off such a heist again.

CSK of 2010 was a brilliant team. They had a brilliant opening pair of Matthew Hayden and Murali Vijay. Vijay during the initial seasons was a brilliant player for CSK who scored couple of hundreds for them in the tournament. They also had a firing Suresh Raina who had another 500+ run season. They had Subramaniam Badrinath who scored 350 runs at 32 and held the middle order for the team and the captain himself who was in amazing form.

The bowling attack in 2010 had the brilliant Doug Bollinger who was hard to get away. They also had Muttaih Muralitharan who had a brilliant season with the ball. Ravichandran Ashwin had a breakthrough year for CSK which propelled his ascent to the national team in the same year. All-Rounder Albie Morkel and Shadab Jakati all had brilliant years with the ball. The team was firing after the initial setback and had a captain who was fresh, fit and was motivating to a team which knew how to win.

The CSK team in 2020 isn’t anywhere near the ability the team of 2010 had. First of all there is no Suresh Raina who most often than not ends up scoring 500 runs in a season for CSK. They don’t have a solid middle order which CSK had in the initial seasons of the tournament. They also don’t have a bowling attack which quite as varied and potent as the 2010 attack was. The biggest issue for CSK this season other than the age of the squad is a jaded and tired MS Dhoni. The biggest talisman for CSK over the years has been their captain “Thala” Dhoni. When the season started this year question marks were raised as to how would Dhoni perform after not having played for a long time.

Even though CSK had a dream start to the season beating MI in the first game, when Dhoni pushed himself below everyone in the order, the answer was there for everyone to see. The MS Dhoni we knew would have walked out after Rayudu’s dismissal to finish the game of himself but he sent Jadeja and Sam Curran ahead of him. When he was struggling to bat in the game against SRH it was evident that the man is strategically and physically not in his best shape to guide this team anymore.

The planning before the start of the tournament wasn’t there and CSK did not bid for many young Indian cricketers in the auction last year. With a thin batting which does not have much wiggle room, CSK decided to invest more on the bowling. The strategy which did not make sense even during that time. While Riyan Parag, Devdutt Padikkal and Priyam Garg all are looking good for their respective franchise, CSK haven’t been consistent with Ruturaj Gaikwad in the playing XI. They finally gave a chance to Jagadeesan last game but again strategically playing another wicketkeeper in the XI and making him field in the outfield was poor. Jagadeesan dropped a catch and I don’t blame him as I am not sure how often he has had to do that.

Chennai Super Kings have a great legacy in IPL. They are the only team to reach the playoffs in all the seasons they have been part of. A streak which seems to be coming to an end this season. In all probability this might be MS Dhoni’s last season as a player for CSK and I hope that the team has a little bit gas left in the tank to make one final push. They might not be able to win the title but they would want to end the season with some good performances. CSK still are mathematically in this tournament but the question is whether they have the will to fight once again with their backs to the wall. It is not going to be easy but if there is one team who can fight the odds it is CSK.

After starting the season with two wins, Rajasthan Royals have now lost three games in a row. It is interesting though that their two wins came at Sharjah and all their losses have been in Abu Dhabi & in Dubai. Batting has been the major issue for RR this season. While their batters have been brilliant in Sharjah, they haven’t been able to replicate the same on bigger grounds of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

RR have a very good batting line up but it does seem like their thinking is little muddled in terms of selection. They have played around with the opening combination in the five games so far. While they started with Yashasvi Jaiswal in their first game, they dropped him in their second to go with Steven Smith and Jos Buttler. After 4 games they once again decided to bring Jaiswal back to have him open with Buttler dropping Smith to number 3. This shows lack of clarity in the team management and moving players around so much normally does not yield consistent results.

The interesting fact is that they also have Robin Uthappa in their squad who was played in the middle order for the first few games only to be dropped in their last game against Mumbai Indians. Robin Uthappa being a opener himself wasn’t tried at that spot before being dropped from the team. For young Jaiswal though the pressure will be immense as he would know that another failure could see him getting dropped again. The other problem for RR has been the lack of consistency from their star player Sanju Samson. While Samson was unstoppable on tiny Sharjah ground, he has struggled on the other grounds this season.

He hasn’t tried to stick it out and has thrown his wicket away in the last three game his team has played. The pattern so far has been similar to last year for RR as Samson who started brilliantly then too fell off later in the season. Jos Buttler has looked good and has played couple of good knocks and so has Steven Smith. The fact that their middle order keeps changing every game does not help matters. Riyan Parag has played a few games, David Miller has gotten a game and there have been few others who have been hastily changed without proper chances.

They still have Manan Vohra in their squad who hasn’t gotten a chance to try out which considering their season they might do. While CSK has a problem of not having enough options, RR have the opposite issue. Sometimes to kick start a season some sort of consistency in selection is required which RR haven’t been able to achieve in the 5 games they have played so far.

While they are playing the best team of the tournament in the game tonight, they would be happy to their happy hunting ground Sharjah. Scoring freely against a varied bowling attack of Delhi Capitals will not be easy but again they will be hoping for their stars to perform. For RR to turn this season around they would need to pick their best XI and give them 2-3 games in a row. Tonight’s game will be crucial for RR and another loss might see the season slipping away from them once again.

My XI for tonight’s game:

Robin Uthappa, Jos Buttler, Steven Smith, Sanju Samson, Mahipal Lomror, Rahul Tewatia, Jofra Archer, Tom Curran, Shreyas Gopal, Kartik Tyagi, Ankit Rajpoot/Jaidev Unadkat

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