CSK and KXIP got on the field for the last time this IPL at Abu Dhabi. A very unique scenario was at the backdrop of this match. If KXIP won, they would keep their playoff hopes alive, while CSK had an interesting record to play for. If CSK won, this would be the first edition of IPL, where every team will finish with at least 6 victories – a statistical validation that this has been the most competitive edition of IPL since its inception.
CSK won the toss and chose to field on a sluggish Abu Dhabi pitch. Punjab had decided to play the extra batsman and went in with just 5 bowlers including Neesham- a move that contradicts the general strategy of T20 cricket. The other thing, that I did not like about KXIP was that they decided to leave out Maxwell, after having trust in him in the last 13 matches. Confusing decision making like this happens when the team management is not sure about exactly what is clicking for them and chop-and-change players in the hope of finding the right combination.
KXIP welcomed back Mayank and the opening partnership of him and Rahul was reinstated at the top. Mayank carried on from where he left in his last match and the duo provided a blistering start to Punjab before Ngidi castled Agarwal with pace. Fresh from a brilliant 99 against RR, the Universe Boss came into the crease. Rahul and Gayle were supposed to lead the charge for KXIp in the middle overs, but unfortunately for the Orange-Cap holder of the tournament, he got foxed by a cutter from Ngidi. Rahul was slated to breach the 700-run mark this season, but he fell short agonizingly by mere 30 runs.
However, leaving aside the personal milestone of Rahul, the more pertinent issue for Punjab was the departure of Rahul started a procession. Nicholas Pooran and Chris Gayle departed in quick succession and Kings Xi was left with their fragile lower-middle order for support. I love IPL so much because it throws up so many interesting stories. Deepak Hooda has been a utility player for his team in IPL for almost 9 years now. He has occupied the Indian allrounder spot for various franchises, but he has rarely played any inning worth remembering. He has chipped in with small cameos, but they have been cameos nevertheless.
Today was the underdog’s turn to hog the limelight. With all illustrious batsmen out of the match, Deepak Hooda started building his inning. First, he formed a vital partnership of 36 off 29 deliveries with Mandeep, to resurrect the KXIP inning. Singles and doubles were the main focus of the partnership as his main objective was to prevent his team from skittling out for a paltry score. Once, Mandeep and Neesham departed in quick succession, Hooda played with intent. He firmed the strike with Jordan at the other end and used his long hands to good effect. He punished anything remotely in the slot with severe disdain as he sliced, thumped, and slogged the likes of Shardul and Ngidi to race to the score of 62 off 30 deliveries- undoubtedly the best inning in his IPL career.
Deepak Hooda’s vital knock ensured that Punjab posted a competitive total of 154 on the board. Chennai’s spinners were on the money for the first time in the tournament as Tahir and Jadeja gave nothing away to the batsmen. Both of them bowled 7 overs between them and conceded 41 and picked up 2 valuable wickets. In fact, the way Tahir accounted for Chris Gayle with his legspinner spoke volumes about the ability of this South African, in spite of him stepping into the wrong side of his 40s.
CSK began the chase with ease. There is something about this kid, Ruturaj Gaekwad that makes him look different from others. In the first 10 balls of the inning, he scored 1 run off the bat. To my pleasant surprise, he did not play any fancy shot to break the shackles. While Faf was attempting scoops off the other end, Ruturaj stood his ground and believed in his abilities as a traditional stroke player.
It is clear from his last few innings, that cover drive is his favorite shot. He is equally adept to pull and glance the deliveries, but the ease with which he plays the flowing cover drive is second to none. Shami was guilty of pitching the ball up to him a couple of times outside the off stump allowing Gaekwad to get into his groove with fluent cover drives.
Faf used his feet and scooped excellently to ensure that the run rate did not dip as his partner settled in at the other end. CSK raced to 57 for no loss in their powerplay overs with Faf doing the majority of the scoring. The absence of a full-time bowler was hurting Punjab already as Neesham proved to be no threat to the batsmen with his dibbly wobbly medium pacers.
After being battered in the powerplay, the only way KXIP could come back in the competition was through Ravi Bishnoi. Unfortunately, the lynchpin of the KXIP bowling lineup misfired at a critical juncture for his team. He sprayed his googlies all around the pitch resulting in both Gaekwad and Faf feasting on him. Murugan has always been the second fiddle to Bishnoi and Bishnoi’s off-form meant that the opposition was not threatened by him as well.
Ruturaj raced to a sublime 62 off 49 deliveries and Rayudu, despite being edgy stuck to the crease, to ensure no hiccups for CSK in the chase. It was a clinical performance for CSK, as they cantered to the target with 7 balls to spare. Ironically, the injection of youngsters has shown the spark for CSK, that they have been missing for so long this season. They sign off with a victory, being unable to make it to the playoffs for the first time in IPL history. However, Dhoni may have just created an opener out of Ruturaj Gaekwad, much like he did out of Rohit Sharma back in 2013.