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Chennai Super Kings’s new method: All-out attack with the bat

In the past, they have fed on slow surfaces and spinners with a more conventional batting approach, but times they are changing.

These are still early days into the IPL 2024, but there is new found intent and purpose in Chennai Super Kings’ batting might. Blessed with batting depth all the way till No 9 — which can extend even further – CSK are looking to break the glass ceiling where the strike-rate has taken total precedence over other batting metrics.

Sample this. On Friday, in pursuit of Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s target of 174, Chennai’s batting line-up drifted away from their usual conventional approach where one among the top three bats the distance. Instead, their line-up came with the sole intention of keeping the pressure on the RCB’s bowlers at all times. Barring their skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad who fell early, their other five batsmen marched on at a strike-rate of: 246.66, 142.10, 122.22, 121.42, 147.05. Though none of them scored above 37, Chennai got home in 18.4 overs.

“I’m not sure,” head coach Stephen Fleming said if he wants a big score from one of their batsmen. “What I do know, I really like the intent of the batters. We have a longer batting line-up with the extra player (Impact Player), and I thought the intent that our batters showed was great. You don’t always get it with one score, one big score, so to have everybody contribute is a positive as well,” Fleming said.

While their home conditions at Chepauk have seldom allowed their batsmen to express themselves in the past, there has been a constant shift since the last IPL. Last season they used four different pitches, which ensured they not only stayed fresh, but the usual slowness wasn’t around. With opposition teams arriving here expecting a slow surface, they played the perfect bluff. And having added more firepower to the middle-order in the form of Daryl Mitchell and their batting depth increasing further all things point out to Chennai’s batting unit not taking the pedal off the accelerator.

Last season, all their frontline batsmen had a strike-rate of 136.26 and above, and the most striking of it all was for a side that won the title there were only 15 50-plus scores, which is roughly one per game. Last season, with Gaikwad and Devon Conway being the in-form batsmen, they did the bulk of the scoring, but more than the runs, it was their strike-rate that stood out.

“From our point of view, it’s more about the intent. The years we don’t do well, we look at why and we rectify that. So one of the changes was a really strong intent. The impact player rule has helped teams get extra batting, which I think helps that. But it’s still the way in which you do it is important. And again, the method in which our players showed the other (Friday) night was encouraging. So they’re nervous and getting into the competition. But I still like the way and the pressure they took the game on, which was good,” Fleming said of the team’s batting approach.

With left-handers and right-handers positioned tactically from top to bottom of the batting order, Chennai’s batting line-up is a nightmare for captains to execute their match-ups. The flexibility of their batting-unit for instance, can make opposition break away from their plans, which Chennai have made full use of since last season. It meant, often teams had to look at shielding their spinners. But the most striking aspect of them was the freedom with which they played the role. Though none of their batsmen are the elite power-hitters their role and approach was totally different to what they usually tend to do for their respective national teams or domestic sides. Ajinkya Rahane and Shivam Dube were classic examples last season.

“The important thing in competitions like this is for the batters to be themselves, and that’s the way they like to play, with freedom and be intimidating to the opposition. The batting line-up that we have gives us confidence as to what we can do. (Ajinkya) Rahane will be aggressive, but he will be different to (Shivam) Dube. So, you go and play your game with freedom and expression,” their assistant coach Eric Simons said.

On Tuesday, Chennai’s new found approach and intent will be put to test by Gujarat Titans. With an all-round attack, which includes two quality spinners in their ranks, the match is not short in terms of match-ups. And with Gujarat having three players from Tamil Nadu, who know the conditions at Chepauk, there is little to choose between these sides. And ahead of their second home fixture, Sri Lanka pacer Matheesha Pathirana, who was their break-out star with the ball last season, has recovered from injury and is available for selection.

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