Where they finished in 2020
Second from bottom, with six wins in 14 matches at a net run rate of minus 0.455. It was the first time that the Chennai Super Kings didn't make it to the playoffs in their 11 seasons in the IPL.
1 Ruturaj Gaikwad, 2 Moeen Ali/Faf du Plessis, 3 Suresh Raina/Robin Uthappa, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Imran Tahir
The Super Kings had the second-worst run rate in the powerplay (7.13) as well as in the middle overs (7.37) in the last IPL. They could remedy this go-slow by fitting in their new recruit Moeen Ali at the top. The England allrounder had led the way for Worcestershire Rapids in the powerplay in 2018 and 2019 by regularly and effortlessly hitting over the top. Ruturaj Gaikwad, who finished the 2020 season strongly, with a hat-trick of half-centuries, will likely continue to open.
Suresh Raina has returned to the set-up after abruptly pulling out of the last season, but he is past his prime, as is MS Dhoni. Both players - and even Ambati Rayudu - haven't had much game time since the last IPL. To compound their worries, Ravindra Jadeja, too, hasn't played competitive cricket since January 2021, having sustained a thumb injury during the Test leg of the Australia tour. The lack of game time for the middle order might prove a thorny issue for the Super Kings again.
Faf du Plessis, who carried the Super Kings' batting and fielding in the UAE, might be relegated to the reserves this season because of the team combination.
Josh Hazlewood has opted out of the tournament and Lungi Ngidi will only join the squad later after his South Africa commitments, but Dwayne Bravo is fit again, having bowled at the death for West Indies against Sri Lanka at home. Sam Curran, who earned a glowing appraisal from Dhoni in his first season at the Super Kings, and Shardul Thakur, who has been a wicket-glutton in recent times, lend more variety to the seam attack. The presence of a number of Indian batting options this time could allow the team management to seamlessly slot Imran Tahir into the XI.
The absence of an offspinner last year left them vulnerable against left-hander-heavy sides, but now they have Ali and K Gowtham to counter them although neither Wankhede nor Chinnaswamy will aid spin. Nevertheless, the attack looks in much healthier shape in comparison to the batting line-up.
Young player(s) to watch out for
"Youngsters in our team? That's an oxymoron! (laughs)". This was coach Stephen Fleming's quip last year. The Super Kings continue to rely on their over-30s seniors, but if they choose to give Jadeja breaks and manage him more carefully after the recent injury, R Sai Kishore offers them a decent option. The 24-year old is a left-arm version of Washington Sundar who threatens the stumps and hits hard lengths in the powerplay. Sai Kishore had finished the most recent Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament with an economy rate of 4.82 - the second best among bowlers who delivered at least 20 overs. Last season, he had the best economy among bowlers who had sent down at least 20 overs.
Then, there's the 22-year old Harishankar Reddy, the third-youngest member in the squad behind Bhagath Varma and Curran. The Andhra seamer can bowl yorkers from a sling-arm, whippy action and had even knocked over Dhoni during a practice match at Chepauk last month.
Stephen Fleming (head coach), Mike Hussey (batting coach), L Balaji (bowling coach), Eric Simons (bowling consultant), Rajiv Kumar (fielding coach)