They were trolled as the “dad’s army” after the auction, but Chennai Super Kings managed to convert their perceived weakness into their biggest strength. Shane Watson, 36, was one of their many over-30s stars, and he came good when it mattered most, his unbeaten century delivering their third IPL crown. MS Dhoni, two months shy of 37, felt the key to their campaign lay in managing experienced players like Watson, even if it meant giving them slight leeway on the field.
“I think we talk a lot about age, but what’s important is the fitness aspect,” he said. “[Ambati] Rayudu is 33, but he covers good ground. Even if he plays a few games where he’s spent a lot of time on the field, he’s not going to turn up and say ‘I’m stiff’. So fitness matters more than age. What we have seen is that our fitness has improved. Most of the captains want players who move well on the field.
“It doesn’t matter who was born in which year, you have to be fit and agile. At the same time, we knew the shortcomings and had to accept areas that we won’t be brilliant in. If I am pushing a Watson to stop a single, there’s a good chance he would burst his hamstring and won’t be available. You don’t want Watson or a [Dwayne] Bravo injured because that will mean shuffling a lot of players to get the right combination or the same strength. So managing them well was the key. But yes, age is just a number.”
If having to deal with injury-prone players was one challenge, having their home games shifted from Chennai after just one match to Pune proved to be another challenge. Stephen Fleming, the head coach, termed this an “adversity” that they dealt with with a lot of calm.
“I will admit moving from Chennai had quite an impact, given, at the auction table, we were picking a team to play in Chennai conditions,” Fleming said. “We had to scramble through the year to try and find a combination. We made more changes to the team that we usually would, just because we all of a sudden had to become a seam-based side and a little bit [less] spin. And that’s quite a big turnaround when you place your strategy to be a slow team with players who play spin well.
“So, I’m really proud of the way we adapted to that. I am proud of the way different individuals stood up at key times.”
Fleming, like Dhoni, spoke of Super Kings not worrying about the age factor. While Dhoni said fitness was more important, Fleming put the spotlight on experience. “I am really proud of the way experienced players showed their value,” he said, “in a way that validated our faith in them, none finer than the innings from Watson [in the final].
“We just believed experience for us, coming back into the competition [after a two-year ban for the franchise’s role in the 2013 spot-fixing scandal], was going to be a key component. The best people to deal with that was players who have dealt with expectations before. That was the reasoning behind this year’s team. Yeah, we got some criticism for it [after the auction]. But we believed that was our best chance of winning.
“It’s a tough competition. It’s the toughest year just because teams have become smarter with who they pick. The auctions are much more competitive and there’s a much better grasp on what franchises want with the player. So this was a tough one. And, again, we valued experience for consistency. Guys who could repeatedly do it and not one-offs because we figured those guys could get on a roll – the Rayudus, the Watsons, the Dhonis and Rainas. They take you deep in the tournament. Good enough to win? Who knows? It [depends] on that day. Today, thankfully, was ours.”