Have always maintained that one big reason for a person like me who cannot call any one city as mine, to support Chennai was (my better half being from there) – Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the rancher for Ranchi, who in the last 2 years have given us the Indians many reasons to rejoice our superiority on the cricket field and also a few coaching lessons on being calm on the face of challenges!! So when Chennai paid through their nose to acquire him in 2008, there wasn’t any doubt that the franchise owners wanted to build a team around the personality and exploits of MSD. This was apparent and visible. What was not, was the assurance of Consistency of performance and building a cohesive unit out of nobodies which MS specializes in by now (remember 2007 WC victory, 2008 Triangular Series victory down under..)
In the 3 years that has gone by if we go back and reminisce Chennai performances we will find while the team boasted of some big names like Haydos, Huss, Murali, Albie, Jake Oram, Andrew Flintoff, Makhaya Ntini, Justin Kemp etc. the crux of the side was built around the lesser know Indian Contingent who made it possible for CSK being the most consistent side – Raina, Parthiv, Vidyut, Badri, Vijay, Ashwin Bala, Jakati, Gony, Tyagi, Palani Amarnath etc. Looking closely what does come out starkly was an acute shortage of international experience within the Indian Players yet, CSK emerged into what it is today effortlessly. So, what worked? The answer is not critical just from a cricketing standpoint but also for any organization trying to form a performing unit out of a bunch of diverse, inexperienced members this may be a great example to learn from.
1. Franchise: SRK, Priety, Mallya, Shilpa, Ambanis – Well the talk of IPL franchises throws up these big names, who have for some reason abel to garner a lot of attention ahead of their teams. In some cases like messrs. Khan, the attention is much bigger than his team and you wonder whether he is playing or his team. For me these publicity / attention have done more of bad than good, adding a lot of pressure on these teams. CSK on the contrary has been a low key team (how many of you really know about their credentials – India Cements, N. Srinivasan etc.). Well there is a bit of cloud on their ownership or conflict of interest etc. but that notwithstanding, the unnecessary publicity noises was near negligible. The Franchisee put together a team, a captain and a support team and handed over the cricketing affairs to them. No wonder there hasn’t been any controversy around who should play, player shunted out, discipline, contract etc etc. Somewhere, this low key status worked wonders as the focus remained on the team, and there wasn’t any additional pressure from any quarters.
2. Promotion: MSD is the biggest Cricket brand at present in India. CSK had him, and some other pros. Yet they didn’t go over the top trying to wriggle out tiresome ad slots from their team. While MSD went on doing “Yeh mera mobile hai, mera…” the rest of the team was left untouched. They weren’t burdened with too many obligatory Post IPL fashin nights, as the team enjoyed within themselves making, DUBLIN (ITC Park Sheraton, Chennai) as their base.
3. Team: The most crucial ingredient of all. Here it may seem CSK got it a bit wrong trying to go for these big all rounders like Morkel, Oram, Flintoff (Unfortunately the latter 2 have spent 60% of their cricketing life recuperating from injuries), rather than going for specialist bowlers – and this deficiency costed them dearly last couple of years till Dougie Bollinger came along. All of a sudden, the team looks strong and balanced. However, one great thing that we saw in 2008 and that continued thereon was MSD’s uncanny abilityto put together a competent unit with unknown faces. Somewhere this was the aspect that was worth Champagne celebrations in 2008, with 2 teams in finals whose captains virtually stitched together teams out of nobodies and the contest got decided of the last ball of the match. Am sure, taking a leaf out of the team of 2010, the franchise and Cricketing think tank of CSK will do some judicious calls in 2011 when all players come up for auction once again. (Somewhere Haydos did mention to MSD earlier this season to go for Mitchel Johnson next season, that’s an interesting one).
4. Fun: It may sound a bit prejudiced, yet I found the best camaraderie between domestic and foreign players alike with CSK. I didn’t find any dugout, where a Murali was squeezed between Tyagi and Jakati (with virtually no space to squeeze in), or Raina ribbing Hussey with 3 runs to win in a game or the little fellows (read Parthiv, Raina, etc.) bouncing on the mammoth Haydos, and any similar antiques. There was fun and laughter but not to that extent. The body language showed, complete enjoyment, where everyone knew everyone loved everyone and were proud to be with everyone. Many years later when Organization development experts study these aspects they might unravel the real reason for such successes – Enjoying the job at hand, every bit. But then this trait of making work fun has been a synonymous aspect of MSD – (Remember the 2007 WC winning team – such a contrast from the serious and drab team just a few days back under Rahul dravid). Its one thing to take part in such competition and its completely another thing to participate with a smile and laugh your way through the competition – almost making a mockery of the pressure and hurdles.
5. Confidence: This one was new. CSK till last year didn’t look too confident of their overall skill. Somewhere they knew that they didn’t have a completely balanced outfit. It seemed the same this year too. However, the moment Dougie Bollinger came in and they cracked this combo of Dougie – Ashwin to open followed by 2 spinners and one quickie, they were a different animal altogether. The later portion of the IPL III, they looked so confident that somewhere that had a telling effect on the oppositions. Beating RR, RCB, Mumbai, KKR, KXIP, DC and Mumbai towards the end was one helluva comeback, and that spoke zillion words about the kind of confidence that one addition brought to the team.
6. Support Staff: Stephen Fleming take a bow. All through his playing days this ace captain was an epitome of composure and astute strategy. So a combination of Flem and MS was a deadly combo. Add to this the expertise of Steve Rickson, their fielding coach. CSK, surprised everybody with their fielding and catching this season. Several games got overturned purely due to the noose that kept tightening around the opponents jugular due to some electric fielding. Venky Prasad did his bit to work out bowling strategies and the tactic of utilizing the ever so declining pace of Indian wickets towards the end of a cricket season was a masterstroke. 3 spinners strategy broke the backs of many teams – including Mumbai in the finals. To have a team that virtually walked through the tournament with just 1 injury (that of Dhoni) speaks volumes about the others in the Support staff. If you noticed closely, the way one of their staff members (Ramk), help a bottle-cap in his mouth for the complete duration of Semi Finals and Finals, showed their dedication of doing their part flawlessly.
7. MSD: No words will be enough to describe the contribution of the Skipper. I am a die hard fan of MSD for some reasons – a. His Professionalism b. His down to earth demeanour c. His focus on performance & consistency d. his hard work e. his continuous improvement f. his maturity g. his leadership h. his control over himself and emotions and so on. And he did bring all of that to the fore. But the couple of things that impressed me this time were his completely relaxed demeanor even when his side had its backs to the wall and his supreme captaincy on the field (especially in SF and Finale). His field placing, bowling changes, and his overall strategy was spot on. Once again he made heroes out of unknown entities – Vijay and Ashwin this time. We have seen how some of the other captains haven’t been able to manage some big international names in their teams (like McGrath, Lee etc.). MS was fabulous with his foreign players. There didn’t seem any lack of understanding who was the boss, and he had earned the resepect of one and all. They played for him and they won for him. Well if that wasn’t the hallmark of a great leader, I don’t know what is.
CSK wasn’t the most deserving team in the finals – so the many overpaid experts feel. Nevertheless, they looked the more accomplished, professional and comfortable team in the finals. A team which was at ease with the situation, and a unit that was just having fun in each other’s company. Somewhere those 2 towering hits under the scrutinizing eyes of Dalai Lama (by MSD), had galvanized a sense of purpose and a far more pronounced sense of calm amongst them.
IPL III was most certainly the best, because of the overall quality, availability of most of the players but most importantly for the beautiful cricket played by Mahi and boys. Well, that’s the way Mahi way !!!