Unbeaten Chennai Super Kings are sitting on the top of the IPL points table. Both victories were achieved with Super Kings in control of the match. For the defending champions to begin confidently this season is not remarkable. However, the make-up of their playing XI has been out of the ordinary. In both games, they have fielded only three overseas players, even though they’ve had the option to go for four.
Both games have been played on pitches that aided the slower bowlers to varying degrees. Despite having Mitchell Santner in the squad, Super Kings have not felt the need to add his all-round talent to their playing roster as yet, with their complement of Indian bowlers and Imran Tahir doing the job. They didn’t even name a replacement when Lungi Ngidi was ruled out before the season started, only roping in Scott Kuggeleijn after David Willey also became unavailable.
The playing XI looks set to continue for a third straight game when they take on Rajasthan Royals on home ground on Sunday, barring any late injury or illness. It is almost unheard of to not pick the full complement of overseas stars for three matches in a row, but Super Kings aren’t looking at this as a ‘strategy’. It is, quite simply, a simple matter of picking the best available XI. If only three overseas players fit in it, so be it.
“Looking at the squad and skills is not based on overseas versus Indian (players),” coach Stephen Fleming said on Saturday. “Harbhajan Singh was a great option for the left-handed combinations that we faced in the first two games. And that can change if you face a lot of right-handers, you’ve got Mitchell Santner there. But you don’t have to play four overseas.
“Whilst in the past you’ve picked overseas players that fit into your side, we’re really happy with the quality of Indian players that we have and that’s why we tend to talk about the abilities in the squad rather than if you’re an overseas player or an Indian player. We rate the players that we pick and those two sides were based on the best balance we thought would win the game.”
Based on the make-up of the squad and the pitch at the home ground of Chepauk, Fleming also gave out 160 to 170 as the total that should be par on an “ideal” T20 pitch.
“We bought a side based on Chennai’s history, which is a slower track,” he said, adding that the pitch for the first game where Royal Challengers Bangalore were bowled out for 70 was an anomaly. “What we saw the other night was an aberration, that’s not normally how it is. A sort of a 160-170 score here has been what we’ve looked for in the past.
“The pitch at Delhi was fractionally slow but certainly dry. It think a variation of surface is what you’re after, you don’t want 200 every time. People think that’s the best wicket but if you ask the bowlers that’s probably not a great season for them. So something that’s got a little bit of challenge for the batters, which you can also get a rough par score of about 160, maybe 170 – in between there – and depending on how you get it and what’s on offer, that would probably be the score or conditions you’re looking for if you want it to be ideal.”
Whether faced with a pitch on which 100 is par, or 150 or 200 – Fleming and the Super Kings think-tank know they have the personnel to fit the conditions, Indian or overseas.