CSK vs RCB, IPL 2024: Dhoni, Chennai Super Kings begin title defence at home against Royal Challengers Bengaluru in season opener


It’s that time of the year again when the coastal city of Chennai drapes itself in yellow, waiting with bated breath for a glimpse of its talismanic skipper MS Dhoni, before lapsing into a state of rapturous reverie as the Men in Yellow hit the ground.

The home crowd will thus relish the opportunity to witness the 42-year-old kick start the Indian Premier League (IPL) with a rip-roaring contest against Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) here at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Friday.

Since his retirement from international cricket in 2020, every year the IPL has seemed like a pilgrimage for the former India skipper as he soaks in the adulation and reverence across the breadth of the country, even as the inevitable question hangs heavy: ‘Until when?’

While Dhoni has learnt to dismiss the inquiry with distinctive cheekiness and ingenuity over the years, his emotional acknowledgement following Chennai Super Kings’ (CSK) record-equalling fifth title win last year indicates this season could well be his swansong.

First up against Dhoni’s men will be a rejuvenated RCB, keen to flip the narrative after its women’s team snapped the franchise’s title jinx by clinching the Women’s Premier League crown last week. Under newly appointed coach Andy Flower, who has an illustrious resume in franchise leagues around the world, the Faf du Plessis-led side will be itching to breach CSK’s bastion for the first time since the inaugural season in 2008. However, it will have its task cut out in trying to upstage the most decorated team at home (66 wins in 100 matches) without the requisite personnel suited for the conditions.

In a tournament where resources are equitably spread, success becomes a component of consistent strategy and asset optimisation, and CSK has done just that. Strangling the opposition with spin has been its mantra and the brains trust stuck to it at the most recent auction, adding spin all-rounder Rachin Ravindra and spin-basher Daryl Mitchell to the franchise’s Kiwi cohort.

With Ravindra Jadeja and Maheesh Theekshana in the mix, RCB will brace for an encore on a pitch that is likely to assist spin. However, the defending champion will be fretting over the form and fitness of its batters. Devon Conway’s opening salvo with Ruturaj Gaikwad was the bulwark of CSK’s title win last year, with the duo rushing off the blocks at 9.35 runs an over in the PowerPlay – second only to Rajasthan Royals.

With Conway injured, the tall task may fall on compatriot Ravindra, who is yet to find his feet as an opener in the shortest format. Similarly, Mitchell, just two matches old in the league, could see the middle-order duties fall squarely on his shoulders in the light of Ajinkya Rahane’s indifferent form and Shivam Dube’s recent injury.

The imparting touches lent by Jadeja and Dhoni will thus be doubly important. The return of Shardul Thakur to the CSK fold and Deepak Chahar from injury will give the batters some cushion, though the duo will be expected to do the bulk of the damage with the ball in the PowerPlay.

CSK has seldom relied on a world-class bowling department, and it is no different this season, with domestic pacers Tushar Deshpande, Simarjeet Singh and Mukesh Choudhary capable of finding ways of succeeding under Dhoni. This Indian fast-bowling depth also enables Super Kings to start with three overseas players and maximise Moeen Ali’s services as Impact Player. However, Mustafizur Rahman, whose variations are tailor-made for the prevailing conditions, could be expected to start in the absence of the injured Matheesha Pathirana.

Whether exciting Indian prospect Sameer Rizvi gets an opportunity to showcase his power-hitting skills will also be closely watched. Conversely, RCB has little wiggle room with regards to its overseas picks. With Du Plessis, Glenn Maxwell and Cameron Green locking three spots, only one of RCB’s three overseas fast bowling buys at the auction – Alzarri Joseph, Tom Curran and Lockie Ferguson – can find a place. While Joseph is the frontrunner, his inclusion will see hard-hitting all-rounder Will Jacks, yet to make his IPL debut, miss out.

With Du Plessis, Virat Kohli and Maxwell forming the spine of the line-up, RCB will expect the presence of Green and Rajat Patidar in the middle-order to balance the top-heavy slant against quality spin bowling.

Though they may have figured out their strategy to counter spin on the batting front, how they go about managing their sparse spin bowling resources will be decisive. With Karn Sharma being the only experienced full-time spinner in its ranks, RCB will hinge on Maxwell to bowl his full quota of overs. Last year, RCB leaked runs in the middle-overs at the fastest rate (9.62 rpo) and in spin-friendly conditions, that is a hole it will be desperate to plug.

ALSO READ | CSK batting coach Hussey says Dhoni ‘keeps getting better’, hints at Sameer Rizvi filling Rayudu’s role

However, Mohammed Siraj and Akash Deep will ensure RCB will have one area well-covered. With Joseph and Green adding to the stocks, the visitor will have a shot at a rusty and untested CSK batting line-up through pace.

Even as Dhoni embarks on his farewell tour, the tournament assumes a different significance for Kohli, whose place in the T20 World Cup squad hangs in the balance.

And though he is not used to being second-favourite amongst the crowd, all exceptions will be granted on Friday as Dhoni descends on Chepauk, his every sleight of hand, every flourish, and even every nurdle off the bat further feeding into his lore and that of Super Kings.


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