Keeping faith pays off for Chennai

Having retained the core group of players, Super Kings had a distinct advantage over others

The defending champions were one of only two teams to retain a maximum four possible players from the previous squad, and they were excellently served by the quartet of skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay and Albie Morkel.

Additionally, the Super Kings bought as many players from their original squad as possible at the January auction in Bangalore, bidding aggressively for and securing the services of R Ashwin, S Badrinath and Doug Bollinger, among others.

It must have particularly delighted the franchise owners, as well as the vastly supportive Chennai crowd, that Saturday night’s victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final of IPL IV was fashioned by two home-grown boys with bright futures ahead of them.

Vijay and Ashwin have been household names in Chennai for a while now, and are gradually wending their way into the national landscape. The former has already had a reasonable taste of international cricket and his CV includes a Test century against Australia. The latter is just feeling his way in, having already impressed in his brief stint with the national one-day side even if the feeling persists that Dhoni the Super Kings skipper has shown greater faith in him than Dhoni the Indian captain.

The Super Kings weren’t far and away the best, or most consistent, team of IPL IV, but they had the most number of wins in the competition – 11 – and went undefeated at the MA Chidambaram stadium throughout the season. Where they had a distinct advantage over the rest was that while the other franchises took some time to gel as a unit following rejigged combinations and revamped team set-ups, the Super Kings rode on relative continuity and an excellent work ethic to find a way past every obstacle.

Not for the first time in IPL history, the Challengers were forced to settle for second best. They have been a consistent force in the competition after a disastrous opening season when they finished second from bottom. Since then, they have made it to the last four on three consecutive occasions, and remain the only Indian franchise to have qualified for all three Champions League competitions.

The Super Kings, however, overshadow even that impressive record. The Chennai outfit has qualified for the IPL knockouts on all four occasions, finishing runners-up in IPL I and emerging champions in the last two editions. They are also the current Champions League title-holders, all indicative of their understanding and appreciation of the nuances of a format that, for all its hype, is still in its infancy.

It will be simplistic to attribute their phenomenal run to Dhoni’s ‘magic touch’. Especially in a Twenty20 game, a captain is only as good as his team is, though it helps that the leader is a calm, composed, unflappable individual whose equanimity in the face of success and defeat is, to put it mildly, stunning.

The atmosphere within the camp is positive and healthy, team members look out for one another and celebrate each others’ success; the ‘one-for-all and all-for-one’ approach masterminded by Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming has been bought into by every member of the squad, which in itself is half the battle won.

The team has also been fortunate to eat into and feed off the huge experience bank of Fleming, who played in IPL I before assuming the coach’s role, Matthew Hayden, Muttiah Muralitharan and Mike Hussey. Sharing a dressing room with such legends has broadened the horizons and enhanced the cricketing education of fortunate young men who, without IPL, wouldn’t have had the same privilege.

While they have been invincible in their bastion, fortune or sleight of hand has played little part in the Super Kings’ triumphant run. Saturday was the third time in seven days that the Super Kings and the Challengers were doing battle. Daniel Vettori’s men won the first game, a league fixture in Bangalore last Sunday, but since then, it has been the Yellow Brigade all the way.

Victory in the final was the third time in IPL IV that the Super Kings had trumped the Challengers. Bangalore were bold, brave and entertaining for the most part of IPL IV, but when it came to the crunch, it was ‘whistle podu’ time!

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