The most consistent and successful team in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Chennai Super Kings' (CSK) inspiring story dates back to the first edition of the league in 2008. With two titles in six seasons, and the only team to make it to the semi-finals of all the past editions, the CSK's story resembles a fairytale.
But even a perfect story has a dark history. The greatness of Kings often obscures their frailties, because the plebeians are so star-struck by their vitality. The real image nonetheless lurks in the background, only waiting to take flight. The plight of Chennai Super Kings, who are at the zenith of the IPL, is much like that of a great King who has a terrible back story hiding behind his vast kingdom and colossal power.
On May 16, 2013, when the whole cricket fraternity was still spellbound by the success of yet another astonishing finish to one of the world's most starry cricketing spectacle, the dark clouds presided over by a storm shattered all the shiny windows of hopes and trust.
With two titles in six seasons, and the only team to make it to the semi-finals of all the past editions, the CSK's story resembles a fairytale.
Three Rajasthan Royals players - S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila - were arrested on charges of spot-fixing. It was followed by suspensions and investigation, which soon snowballed into one of the dirtiest and embarrassing controversies Indian cricket had to ever face.
When investigations started revealing the missing links brick by brick, the dirt spread to those sitting behind the confines of power, including the CSK owner and BCCI boss N Srinivasan and his son-in-law and the then Team Principal Gurunath Meiyappan. Such was the impact of the scam that it led the Supreme Court to forcefully bring down Srinivasan from the top post and hand over the realms of the BCCI and the seventh season of the IPL to former India captain Sunil Gavaskar.
The CSK narrowly missed coming under the hammer of the Supreme Court, which allowed them, along with Rajsathan Royals, to take part in the league. As a famous maritime tradition says, 'The captain goes down with the ship', CSK skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was also not spared the blues. Dhoni's name figured in the Supreme Court, accused of "lying about Meiyappan's role in the team".
Today, when the IPL will usher in a new era under Gavaskar, CSK would look to brush aside the allegations and put up a brave front to salvage lost pride by clinching their third title.
Here's an analysis of the mighty franchise ahead of the league's seventh edition beginning in the UAE:
CSK's biggest strength is their resolve, which is led by none other than captain cool Dhoni, to fight in the darkest of situations. Coached by former Kiwi captain Stephen Fleming, the CSK are no less than a nightmare to their opponents.
They retained five players from their previous squad - Dhoni, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja - and the composition of the team is a perfect mixture of some quality domestic and international players. Batting looks reliable with enough firepower and runs deep. Leading from the front is Dhoni, along with the likes of Brandon McCullum, Raina, Dwayne Smith and Fad du Plessis. The team also has some of the best allrounders in the business with Bravo, Jadeja and Aussie John Hastings. The unit also has a heavy spin department led by Ashwin, Samuel Badree and Pawan Negi. But above all, it is their captain, who remains the team's pillar of strength.
While batting and spin bowling look strong and full of venom, one area in which the team lacks is its pace attack, which can prove to be a hindrance in their campaign. The absence of a quality and wicket-taking pacer in their line-up will definitely dent their hopes. The pace attack is led by 31-year-old Ben Hilfenhaus, who will be supported by Ronit More, Mohit Sharma, Ashish Nehra and Ishwar Pandey - although the 22-year-old Kiwi pacer Matt Henry might well prove to be a surprise package.
MS Dhoni: The CSK captain adds a lot of star power and value to the team with his cool tactics and ability to think out of the box. The most successful man ever to lead India, Dhoni is the winner of two World Cups and leads from the front as one of the finest finishers in the game today.
Suresh Raina: The elegant southpaw is just one match away from his 100th IPL game. With 2802 runs in 95 innings at an average of just over 35 runs, Raina is the highest run-scorer in the IPL. His sheer ability to walk into the middle and hit from the word go is unparalleled. Raina's part-time spin bowling and extraordinary fielding capabilities make him a standout performer.
Brendon McCullum: The explosive Kiwi opener McCullum will always be remembered for his 158* off 73 balls against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the opening match of the first season in 2008. On his day, McCullum can bury any bowling attack with his might, and CSK will hope the Kiwi adds to their batting muscle.
R Ashwin: The Chennai offspinner is currently the third-ranked bowler in the ICC T20 rankings. His exploits in the recently concluded World T20 would surely boost his confidence going into the tournament. Ashwin's ability to take wickets at crucial junctures has time and again earned him laurels from Dhoni who considers him as his go-to man.
2008: Riding on clinical performances throughout the tournament, the CSK reached the final of the first season in 2008 but were knocked out by Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals in a match that went to the last ball.
2009: CSK's hopes of reaching a second consecutive final were dashed by the Royal Challengers Bangalore, who beat them by six wickets in the semi-finals.
2010: The year brought a golden double for CSK. They won the IPL title beating favourites Mumbai Indians in the final and also went on to win the Champions League Twenty20 held in South Africa, becoming the first IPL team to win the tournament.
2011: They followed their success in the next year as well and became the first and only team to win back-to-back IPL titles.
2012: Chennai qualified for the playoffs despite a not-so-solid performance in the group stage. But the team turned it around in the knockouts and reached the final for the third time in a row, but only to be defeated by Kolkata Knight Riders.
2013: Last year, CSK topped the points table, winning 11 of their 16 matches and reached their fourth final but were beaten by the Sachin Tendulkar-inspired Mumbai Indians.
Chances this year: Over the years, Chennai Super Kings have been one of the most balanced teams in the league and their stats are a testimony to that.
Having won the title twice, they will now be gunning for a treble. And there is a strong chance that CSK will achieve that objective. They will play their first match against the Kings XI Punjab in Abu Dhabi on April 18th.
Squad: MS Dhoni(c/wk), Suresh Raina, Baba Aparajith, Ravichandran Ashwin, Dwayne Bravo, Faf Du Plessis, Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum, Ashish Nehra, Mohit Sharma, Ishwar Chandra Pandey, Ben Hilfenhaus, John Hastings, Samuel Badree, Matt Henry, Mithun Manhas, Vijay Shankar, Ronit More, Pawan Negi, Mithun Manhas