Abu Dhabi welcomed CSK & RR- two teams just hanging to their playoff chances by the skin of their teeth. This is when it gets exciting at the end of the tournament, where league matches become a virtual eliminator. This year, it is more so, because the bottom 4 teams of the league are deadlocked at 6 points from 9 matches. Neither of them can afford to lose a single match from here on if they want to proceed to the playoffs on their own mettle. There have been cases where teams have progressed to the playoffs with even 12 / 14 points in the past, but then you have to hope that other teams’ results go your way.

CSK won the toss and chose to bat. While captains are preferring to bat in the latter half of the tournament due to the slow pitches, I think there is a bit of more story behind CSK sticking to bat first on winning the toss. MS Dhoni has historically preferred to chase, even when he was the Indian captain. In the initial half of the tournament as well, Dhoni wanted to chase- something that he and his team has done so successfully throughout his career. The barrage of misfiring chases from CSK in the first 7 matches has prompted Dhoni to bat first- something that he has rarely done in his leadership career.

CSK began with Curran and Du Plessis. I stated in my previous article that Curran won’t come off every match, but he has to play high-impact discrete innings for his side. But today he did exactly what, he should not have done. He stuck around and wasted deliveries for his side. 22 off 25 deliveries is simply not enough when your team has sent you out as a pinch-hitter. Curran had a big role to play in CSK choking in the powerplay once again.

However, Curran played slow because wickets kept tumbling at the other end. Smith got back to his trusted opening bowling combo of Tyagi and Archer. It is so pleasing to see the growth of Tyagi this season. He started off as a fringe player and now he is the No. 1 Indian pacer of the side. He bowls the tough overs in the powerplay as well as in the death and picks up wickets consistently. He is surely the newest addition to an already brimming talent pool of Indian fast bowlers this IPL.

Du Plessis fell to Archer unable to keep the short ball down. But the most salivating part of the powerplay was the contest between Tyagi and Watson. The tearaway pacer finally won the contest as he dismissed Watson caught at deep mid-wicket, after conceding 2 boundaries. With 2 early setbacks, CSK tried to consolidate and dug themselves into a hole- something they have done so often this season.

The duo of Rahul Tewtaia and Gopal bowled in tandem in the middle overs to put a stranglehold on the CSK scoring rate. The spinners bowled 8 overs and picked up 2 wickets for 32 runs killing any hope of recovery for CSK. Curran tried to go big and was holed out in the deep off Shreyas Gopal. Rayudu did the most basic mistake of playing a sweep to wrist spinner. Invariably Tewatia induced a top edge and CSK lost 4 in the first 10 overs.

Another painstakingly slow inning from MS Dhoni followed and Jadeja could not get off the blocks even after trying his best. While the partnership of 51 from 46 deliveries between Jadeja and Dhoni stabilized the CSK inning, they failed to shift gears to the next level in the slog overs. Dhoni once again rarely timed the ball against Archer or Tyagi. Clearly, he is finding it difficult to play express pace in the tournament.

Just when Dhoni and Jadeja were expected to accelerate to take the score near 140, Dhoni ran himself out, trying to take on the arm of Jofra Archer. The finishing flourish never came, as CSK scored only 29 from the last 4 overs. Albeit the pitch was 2-paced, and though the boundaries were long, 126 was too meager a target to be set at Abu Dhabi.

RR came out to bat with the familiar mistake they have repeated over their last few matches. I will go on saying that promoting Stokes as an opener is a mistake even though he succeeds. At present, he is playing a Sunil Narine-like role for RR. Stokes is just too good a batsman to go hammer and tonks at the top and lose his wicket.

Stokes threw his bat at everything from ball 1 and was bound to succumb on the sticky pitch with his hard-hand strokes. Robin followed soon after and Samson like always flattered to deceive once again, being strangled down the legside. Rajasthan Royals were reduced to 28-3 in the 5th over. An early collapse has been a regular feature for the RR side especially after they decided to open with Stokes in the latter half of the tournament.

With CSK having the momentum in their favor and Smith unable to rotate the strike, it appeared that the men in yellow will be gaining ascendancy in the virtual eliminator. However, it was the Butler show from here on. Smith survived a controversially close lbw review, which I feel was out, but looked to struggle with his batting as he could manage only 8 of his first 20 deliveries.

Butler, on the other hand, looked to be batting on a different surface altogether. They say, when great batsmen play, you feel that there are no fielders on the ground and that was the exact case for Butler today. While Smith hit every ball to the fielder Butler seemed to find the right gaps in the field with magical effect. He rotated the strike initially to get the inning going. But once, he settled down he attacked the CSK spinners.

With such a low total on the board, it was going to be the CSK’s spinners who could have strangled RR in the middle overs. However, Butler’s onslaught from the first ball against Jadeja and Chawla meant that both of them could not settle with their line and length. Butler used his feet to good effect to reach the pitch of the ball- a move that did not allow the spinners to exploit the sticky surface. Jos easily lifted the spinners over long-on and long-off, as CSK looked hapless against a genius performance from the Englishman.

Butler’s 70 off 48 deliveries were enough to guide RR home and keep their playoff hopes alive. CSK on the other hand slide further and has now lost grip over their own fortune this IPL. Even if they win all their remaining encounters from now, they need to hope about a lot more results going their way if they want to make it to the playoffs. The forever golden spoon for the men-in yellow is gradually morphing into a wooden one, this season and Captain Cool is losing his Midas touch unfortunately.