Bengaluru, October 26: "When a team loses its edge, it's energy, it's motivation, it's just over. There was no way. There was too much fatigue and it ended for a reason. It was supposed to end."
That was basketball great Steve Kerr talking to Matt Barnes on the 'All The Smoke' podcast about the end of Chicago Bulls glory run in the NBA. In a different world, those words perfectly fit Chennai Super Kings.
They have been the 'Team of the IPL'. Agree, Mumbai Indians have more IPL titles - four to CSK's three. Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kings XI Punjab have often fielded teams filled with stars. But none of them have managed to match Chennai Super Kings' feat, appearing in all IPL play-offs in the 11 editions of the tournament that they have played.
It is just a stunning piece of consistency. However, that proud record was dented on Sunday (October 26) after Rajasthan Royals defeated Mumbai Indians. The result evaporated the tiny, theoretical chance the Super Kings held to enter the IPL 2020 play-offs. The reasons could be many - the withdrawal of Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh, the Covid 19 forced extended quarantine and lack of game time for many of their ageing, frontline stars.
Now, a new, tough road beckon a team that lorded over the tournament as their name suggests. The Super Kings will have to go through two matches of pure academic interest. There is nothing to gain or lose from those matches for them. "Giving chance to youngsters." "Audition for IPL 2021." Never mind those phrases. Often captains will have to say them after such a quite demise of years' long bull run.
Playing the last two matches of the IPL 2020 is just the beginning for the CSK. They will have to undertake far tougher tasks in the near future. The biggest decision they will have to take is about the future of MS Dhoni. The Jharkhand man is the most decorated limited-overs captain, and has overseen the progress of Super Kings in the IPL since 2008.
Above all, he is an emotion, an emblem of loyalty. Now, the Super Kings will have to make up their mind. Should they remove Dhoni from the helm and hand over the oar to someone else? Or should they persist with him for one more season considering the IPL 2021 is some six months away, if everything goes as per the plan. An intense, honest discussion on that is certain to take place soon after the IPL 2020.
But if the Super Kings are indeed serious to resume that glory march then they will be better to find a new captain. Yes, Dhoni's mind is still alert, his 'keeping skills are as sharp as ever but as a batsman he is a spent force. In a format like T20, you simply cannot hold up one place as it stymies the progress of the entire team.
Stephen Fleming too shall go. Fleming and Dhoni had combined well over the years to chart a roadmap for the Super Kings. It has produced some wonderful results too. But now, their tactics have become all too familiar, even obsolete. It was built around Dhoni and his ability to play power cricket towards the closing stages.
But Dhoni's powers have waned. Dhoni is no longer the 'Big Wicket' in CSK line-up, in fact no one in this line-up is. Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Dwayne Bravo, Raina, Kedar Jadhav, Harbhajan, all have served their purpose for Super Kings. They need to find fresh names who can envisage and execute fresh strategies to remain competitive in the IPL.
It has to begin NOW. The rebuilding stage is quite a hazardous one. We have several examples in front of us. The Australian cricket team took some years to assemble a quality squad after the retirement of titans like Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.
The departure of Alex Ferguson, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs are still hurting Manchester United. Ferrari is no longer the force that they were once with Michael Schumacher in their ranks. We have Bulls too. For nearly 20 years, they have been looking for a definitive turnaround after Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Kerr went their own ways.
Will the Super Kings be ruthless in their decision-making post IPL 2020 or will they succumb to the tugging of sentiments? The answer holds the key to us seeing the second coming of Chennai Super Kings.