Jadeja’s form triggers CSK’s captaincy crisis

- May 4, 2022
| By : Chander Shekhar Luthra |

An out-of-form Jadeja resigned as the CSK captain to focus more on his game and returned the leadership baton to MS Dhoni. Not only has this highlighted CSK’s rocky road to the play-offs, but has also triggered the team’s captaincy crisis

(Photo credit: BCCI/IPL)

Ravindra Jadeja is amongst the best all-rounders in contemporary international cricket. And these views were endorsed by almost every cricket fan after he slammed an unbeaten 175 against Sri Lanka in Mohali recently.

So, considering his sensational form in the Indian Premier League’s 2021 edition, where he excelled in his new role as a “finisher” in Chennai Super Kings’ (CSK) fourth title triumph, Jadeja was chosen as a special to replace the team’s cult figure-like Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the 15th edition.

Not only did Dhoni lead CSK to four titles, but the team also made it to a record nine finals under his leadership. With the exception of the 2020 season, Chennai has made it to the play-offs in every season since 2008. So, it was an honour for Jadeja to step into the shoes of one of the greatest finishers in the game.

But as luck would have it, Jadeja started crumbling under the burden of captaincy. Halfway through, the reigning champions were languishing at the second position from the bottom, just above last year’s runners-up Mumbai Indians, having lost six of their initial eight matches in the ongoing season. 

While there could be a debate over why the second-most successful franchise with the most consistent record of making it to the play-offs has failed to deliver this time around, none would contest that a dip in the form of the new skipper, Jadeja, has been the prime reason. 

Another reason, which many cricket pundits agree with, is the presence of Dhoni in the dressing room. There is no secret that every single player has been looking up to him for motivation on or off the field. Yes, Dhoni has been a cult figure for every Chennai player, and that constantly kept Jadeja under pressure to do something different from his predecessor. 

Jadeja, on the other hand, was seen out of sorts. Most of the time, the Saurashtra all-rounder was seen fielding outside the ring. This obviously started a debate on whether it was him (Jadeja) or the wicket-keeper Dhoni who was in charge of setting up the field placement. And one who understands the nitty-gritty of cricket would understand that by fielding outside the ring, it is difficult for the skipper to control the game that’s going on inside the 30-yard circle. 

Only team management knows if it was intentional or if it was discussed during pre-match team meetings. But the insiders are indicating that Jadeja was perhaps forced to step down, as his own form with bat and ball was dipping with every passing game. 

The CSK management felt strongly that “it cannot remain silent if the world’s best all-rounder is not performing at his best”. And when it was observed that captaincy pressure even saw him dropping catches, then it was probably the time to relieve him from the burden.

CSK began the season with five straight losses before registering two wins on the trot. It was that crucial loss in the 8th match of the season, which meant their play-off hopes were almost over, that triggered the haste. CSK insiders are now revealing that Jadeja was keen to focus on his game with important matches for Team India also lined up after the conclusion of this IPL season.

“Ravindra Jadeja has decided to relinquish the captaincy to focus and concentrate more on his game and has requested MS Dhoni to lead CSK. MS Dhoni has accepted the request to lead CSK in the larger interest and to allow Jadeja to focus on his game”, the statement from CSK’s official website reads on the matter.

While some of the portions of the statement are true, it is also true that CSK management did not want to be a mute spectator when the defending four-time champions were getting beaten left, right and centre. There are strong indications that discussions over bringing back Dhoni as a leader started during the last three days of Jadeja’s captaincy. 

The main worry, however, was not the poor leadership of Jadeja, but his poor form that forced the management to take immediate action.

Skipper Jadeja failed in four of the eight innings in the tournament with the bat. He has just managed to score 112 runs at a poor strike rate of 121.73 this season. In the last IPL season, Jadeja had an aggregate of 227 runs in 12 innings at an average of 76 and a strike rate of 146. In 2020, the all-rounder was also on fire, scoring 232 runs in 11 innings at an average of 46.4 and a strike rate of 172.

In the bowling department too, Jadeja failed to either pick wickets or restrict the opposition batsmen. He has only bagged five wickets in eight matches and has seen his economy rate in the middle overs dip from 7.06 in 2021 to 8.16 in the current edition.

In 2021, Jadeja’s 13 wickets at an economy rate of 7.06 played a crucial role in CSK’s title victory. And not to forget that he was mainly bowling during the 7th to 16th over phase of the game. 

The pressure of leading CSK also affected Jadeja’s fielding prowess. Regarded as one of the best fielders in the world, it was a shocker to see him drop two sitters against the Mumbai Indians on April 21.

Grooming as skipper

One should understand that appointing Jadeja as the skipper of CSK didn’t come in a day. In fact, the 33-year-old has been groomed as CSK’s next leader since 2012, when he was an understudy for Dhoni. 

Jadeja, considered to be one of the finest all-rounders, even better than England’s Ben Stokes by many, earned the leadership role in CSK. His ability to finish games as well as stifle the flow of runs while bowling in death overs made him an irreplaceable member of CSK over the years. Even now, Jadeja got to lead CSK in just eight matches and can’t be judged as a skipper just yet. 

But one thing was sure: Jadeja never got the respect that Dhoni used to get inside the dressing room. Jadeja’s comparison with Dhoni so soon made it impossible for him to survive at the top. That’s why, somewhere, team management or even Jadeja personally thought of giving the leadership role back to tried and tested Dhoni. 

But the all-rounder has all the qualities to be a leader of the pack in the future. His ability to lead by example and stay cool in tough conditions is being admired by the entire CSK unit and the cricketing fraternity at large. CSK certainly had a chance to hand over the captaincy to someone like Faf du Plessis at the end of the last season. But the management wanted a long-term solution rather than handing over command to an almost 38-year-old player. 

CSK wanted to invest in the future. They needed someone who could lead them for the next five seasons. Jadeja was a fit case considering all those thoughts. The experiment has failed for sure, but going back to Dhoni as a stop-gap arrangement may not be a bad experiment for now. 

The way forward

CSK is in danger of not making the play-offs for only the second time in the history of the tournament after 2020, as the defending champions have managed just three wins from their first nine matches. 

CSK scored the victory over SunRisers Hyderabad in the last encounter meaning that Dhoni successfully returned as leader. But the situation is still as bad as it seemed before he took over once again. With 16 points seemingly being the magic number, CSK currently is reeling at six and can hardly afford any more slip-ups.

Chennai theoretically has an outside chance of advancing to the play-offs. It is no secret that Dhoni has a free hand in all CSK affairs as team owner N. Srinivasan treats him like his son. 

The biggest challenge that Dhoni now faces is not just that his team qualifies for the play-offs, but also that he has to groom some youngster to take over the reins of CSK leadership from him. There is no secret that the stalwarts like Dhoni, Ambati Rayudu, Dwayne Bravo and Robin Uthappa will soon be replaced by the likes of Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shivam Dube, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, and Maheesh Theekshana. 

Dhoni, along with the team management, has now to ensure that whether it is again Jadeja or someone from the younger group, they have to be nurtured properly in order to serve the team’s interests in the years to come. 


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