“People come, people go. Some grow young, some grow cold. I woke in between. A memory and a dream” Lines from You don’t know how it feels, a super-hit song for Tom Petty, the American rock star who passed away a half-decade ago.
There is no growing ‘cold’ when it comes to Chennai Super Kings (CSK). The rest is an apt description of this super team. They grow old, and then become gold. They invest in veterans, and get match-winners. Leave aside Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has become an almost-mythical figure. Think of Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali. No other Indian Premier League (IPL) team recruits so many so-called oldies. Chennai does, and reaps very high rewards.
Their fifth IPL title in a thriller of a final against Gujarat Titans in Ahmedabad was testament to this philosophy of trusting players nearing the end of their careers. More often than not, they deliver. The contributions of Rahane, Rayudu and Jadeja were match-turning. Jadeja, of course, ran away with all the glory by hitting a six and a four off the last two balls. But Rahane and Rayudu played those crucial cameos when the match looked like slipping from Chennai’s grasp.
And this is not an aberration. This is a tradition when it comes to the five-time IPL champions. Somehow, they identify extremely accurately what their requirements are and hire accordingly. Harbhajan Singh became a part of the team a few years ago, when everyone thought he was done. But Bhajji delivered. That is just one example.
Who thought Rahane would play such an important part in this title-winning run? The perception was that he was a spent force and Chennai erred by buying him. Then he kept delivering those telling knocks, match after match. An average of 32.60 is merely good, but that strike-rate of 172.48 was astonishing. Even in the final, he kept the chase alive with that 13-ball 27. The score may not look towering, but in the circumstances, it was priceless.
Rayudu’s eight-ball 19 in what was his last IPL appearance was equally precious. It is not easy to just walk to the middle and start hitting the ball straightaway. But he did that, and helped his team add another chapter of success to their illustrious history. Rayudu’s quality of shot-making was fabulous. And his team acknowledged the role he played.
This is the Chennai theory which no other team follows. They buy sensibly. They see potential in names whom other teams have written off as has-beens. This takes an enormous amount of judgement and the ability to assess. Then, they create an environment where that individual feels at home, and is made well aware of what his role his.
It’s very different from Mumbai Indians, the only other team to have won the IPL five times. Their modus operandi is in stark contrast. Mumbai prefer scouting for youngsters, and have unearthed some spectacular talents over the years. Chennai prefer relying on players who are more experienced, and turning them into something that others did not think they could be.
In the process, Chennai live in both memories and dreams. Memories of Dhoni leading the side will never fade. He has been the catalyst. It’s his team. He is one of the foremost brains when it comes to picking players. And then, we come to dreams. They win because they dream, and then turn them into reality. This is a legacy that will be hard to match.