Chennai goes full throttle with eye on title
If you want the cup, you must have the best and if you want the best, you jolly well pay for them.
That sums up the strategy of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) who picked up Andrew Flintoff for $1.55 million at Friday's auction.
Many may raise their eyebrows over the deal, especially when Flintoff will be available only for 21 days, translating into five or six matches at the most. But this is what VB Chandrasekhar, director-cricket operations, Chennai Super Kings told ET: "Flintoff is an all rounder, coming in at that slot. He will give the team a head start and help us reach the last four so that the pressure is off when the other inter-national players come in".
A similar strategy worked for CSK even last time round. The team won the first four matches it played (against Punjab Kings, Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders and Bangalore's Royal Challengers, in that order) which included interna-tional players Oram, Hussey and Hayden, giving it a good headstart in the tournament.
Jacob Oram (4 matches), Michael Hussey, Matthew Hayden (both around eight matches) and Morkel (nine matches) — none of who played the entire series (of 14 matches) — earned good rewards for the team.
But was Flintoff over-priced? Here is the answer from India Cements vice presi-dent-marketing Rakesh Singh: "There were few good players in this auction. There was no way we could have got him at a low price. It is a question of demand and supply."
While the team has a good list of batsmen and bowlers, what it lacked was a good fast bowler. "There was nobody in that department except Muralidaran and Balajee. Flintoff fit the bill. His being a world-class all-rounder is an added advantage for the Chennai team," said a cricket analyst in Chennai.
But everyone agrees it was because of Dhoni's captaincy that they reached the fi-nals last year. Officials say this time, too, Dhoni will be instrumental in bringing out players' individual strengths to come up with a winning side.
The current CSK international line-up also goes well with it's wanting to qualify for the Champions League -- an international Twenty20 cricket competition between clubs from Australia, England, India, Pakistan and South Africa -- which they qualified for last year too. The championship eventually did not take place for various reasons. Interestingly, three players in the Chennai team are also part of other international leagues. In addition to CSK, Albie Morkel also plays for Titans (South Africa), Hussey for Western Australia and Flintoff for Lancashire.
"Which team they chose to play for depends on the player. Morkel and Hussey, though, have agreed to bat for Chennai," Tamil Nadu Cricket Association honorary secretary KS Viswanathan said. This involves a payout to the other team by CSK to the tune of around $250,000 per player, which CSK is willing to fork out, according to Viswanathan.
Mr Singh said they had Flintoff in mind when they went into the hall. "The other two players were also available at a good price," he added, refering to Sri Lankan Thilan Thushara and Australian George Bailey. On whether the team missed out on any player, Chandrasekhar said they also wanted Owais Shah, who was bought by the Delhi team.
On how the team compares with the latest line-up from the other teams, Viswana-than said they were confident as they had a "balanced team". But he hastened to add that no team could be called the best as most had put together teams with the best international and domestic talent. CSK also signed on local boy M Vijay a few months ago.
On the branding front, India Cements, which owns CSK, is confident that the cricketing franchisee would fetch them more visibility in north India, where it has chalked out expansion plans. Company officials also said the franchisee was a com-pany asset that they would not monetise or put up for sale anytime soon.
"Our brand became more visible through IPL. This team is an inherent asset and we do not want to sell it now," India Cements vice president-operations N Venkates-waran said. A few days ago, Rajasthan Royals sold a 12% stake to London-based entrepreneur Raj Kundra and Bollywood celebrity Shilpa Shetty.
The IPL is in line with the company's strategy to be a pan-Indian player, Venkates-waran said. The company is planning to set up plants in Northern India and believes this tournament will help in making its brand more visible among its future cus-tomer base. In fact, the company is also considering branding its products as 'Super King', which will immediately create a brand recall among customers there.