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‘Personal reasons’ and the coronavirus have been lashing through one of the most successful teams in the Indian Premier League’s history, the Chennai Super Kings, since they landed in the UAE on August 21.

Last week, Suresh Raina, one of the mainstays of the team’s batting line-up pulled out of the entire tournament, and this week, Harbhajan Singh, a pivotal part of their spin attack, bowed out as well. Thirteen squad members, including two players, Deepak Chahar and Ruturaj Gaikwad, were tested positive for the virus, thus delaying their practice sessions.

Raina told to ANI, “It was a personal decision and I had to come back for my family. What happened to my family was beyond horrible.” For the context, his uncle was slaughtered to death and his aunt and cousins severely injured in an alleged dacoit attack in Pathankot, Punjab. One of his cousins succumbed later (Had to come back for family: Suresh Raina on leaving CSK camp- Times of India, 2020).

Pertaining to the 13 team members testing positive, he said, “It was heart-breaking of course. This is a very deadly disease and even after so many precautions if the staff gets infected it just says how bad it can be and it can happen to anyone” (Had to come back for family: Suresh Raina on leaving CSK camp- Times of India, 2020).

There were reports of team owner N. Srinivasan saying that cricketers act like ‘prima donnas’ and Raina is going to regret leaving the squad. He cleared the air later saying that his comments were misunderstood. Raina too, said, “He is a father figure to me and always stood by me and is close to my heart. He treats me like his younger son and I am sure a lot is taken out of context” ((Had to come back for family: Suresh Raina on leaving CSK camp- Times of India, 2020).

But the virus scare seems to put CSK’s basic plans on a hold. Harbhajan Singh became the second player from the team who decided to skip the tournament after Raina. The veteran spinner was yet to leave from India. He has been a part of the team for the past two years and is currently in Jalandhar, Punjab with his family and requested privacy.

Test results of the other members, apart from the aforementioned 13 came negative for the third consecutive time. Those who tested positive will be checked upon after the two week isolation period is over, CSK CEO KS Viswanathan told PTI. The team finally hit the nets on Friday (September 4).

Abhishek Mandal, a Dhoni fan, is not much worried about the team’s performance, though. He says, “Raina’s exit will surely have quite an impact on the middle order, especially during chases. Also, he was a part-time spinner. There is no such player who can perfectly play Raina’s role in the team.”

But he is optimistic about Captain Cool coming up with something to fill the gap. He feels that Ravindra Jadeja and Shane Watson can provide some balance to the middle order, alongside Faf du Plessis. Harbhajan’s exit, though, doesn’t bother him much, as he thinks there are other capable off-spinners in the team.

Trishna Das, a CSK supporter since the tournament’s inception, is on the same page as Abhishek in Raina’s case. She says, “I guess the team might be affected by the exit of Raina and Harbhajan. CSK is a strong team with both experience as well as professionalism. Two of the most experienced players have decided not to play so it will be a little tricky for the team.”

She still hopes that something might change their mind and they come back. The replacements are important, she feels. She thinks Dwayne Bravo and Jadeja along with Dhoni are vital for the middle order. She doesn’t think that a new comer would be a good option.

Mrinmoy Dhar sounded very similar to the others. He says, “Exit of Raina might be a huge loss to CSK. He has been in the team since the very beginning. His part-time bowling skills and all round batting will not be seen, which might disturb the balance of the team, adding to that his fielding capabilities. Harbhajan has been on and off the team, and his absence won’t really affect them.” In his opinion, Ambati Rayudu and Mitchell Santner can provide a good balance. He is a tad bit worried about the team’s performance this season.

Harbhajan Singh IPL
Harbhajan Singh (Image Credits: Crickettimes)

“Raina and Harbhajan’s exit will have a big impact on the dynamics of CSK because they hold specific and important roles in the team,” says Dipanjan Ghosh, a die-hard CSK fan. “Raina, as we know, is Mr IPL and anchors the innings, consistently adding 400 runs to his personal tally every season,” he says.

He agreed with Mrinmoy on the capabilities of Rayudu, alongside mentioning du Plessis and Gaikwad, hoping that the latter gets back soon. For Harbhajan, he thinks, the veteran spinner was going to bring a bag full of experience, especially when playing in the UAE, where there is a bit of bounce for the spinners, knowing well how to utilise it.

The CSK team comprises seven pacers but most of them were not available for the first training session. Bravo and Josh Hazlewood are busy with the Caribbean Premier League and national team duty respectively. Sam Curran has not arrived yet while Lungi Ngidi is still undergoing the mandatory quarantine. The latter is motivated to join the practice sessions, missing out on playing for the team last season. Only fast bowlers to have a go at the nets were Shardul Thakur and KM Asif, apart from two other net bowlers and “it was not an ideal situation” (Saharoy, S., 2020. IPL 2020: Lack Of Pacers A Worry For Chennai Super Kings- Times of India).

Deepak Chahar IPL
Deepak Chahar (Image Credits: IPLT20)

Watson had arrived in Dubai before the rest of the team. He had a fabulous season in 2018, his first season with the team, but could not quite do the same in 2019. He would have to give his best this time.

CSK has lifted the IPL trophy thrice, having the highest win percentage among the teams. They hold the record of most number of appearances in the playoffs and the finals. From facing a two-year ban, coming back to lift the trophy, to facing a probable setback due to the virus and the absence of key players, CSK have seen it all.

The expectations and hopes of fans will still be sky-high as usual. It remains to be seen if they can maintain their record of qualifying for the playoffs every season, and go on to bag another trophy. 

Cover Credits: CricketCountry