Tonight’s clash was a highly anticipated one, as ‘The Thala’ was getting on the field after a break of a week. CSK has not been looking in decent shape, perhaps for the first time in the last 10 years. The last over heists were not happening and murmurs had already started going around, whether these are indications of the fall of the Great CSK empire. On the other hand, SRH had picked up a win in their last match against DC and were high on momentum- The battle was bound to be an engaging one.

CSK made a few very good changes to the team. Ambati Rayudu and Dwayne Bravo came back to the team, after recovering from their niggles, that kept them out of the last 2 games. Ruturaj seemed too overwhelmed with his responsibilities in the middle order and it made sense to play an additional bowler in his place. Because of the all-round skills that Bravo and Curran brought to the team, CSK for the first time in the season could go on the field with 7 bowling options and batting up to No. 8.

SRH won the toss and decided to put up a score on the board. Bairstow was dismissed by a sharp inswinger from Deepak Chahar tonight- the same delivery that resulted in his undoing a few nights ago against Pat Cummins. Manish Pandey joined hands with Warner at the wicket. I don’t know whether it’s a plan from the SRH team management, which is behind Warner’s conservative approach at the crease. But I must say it is not working at all for Warner. Batsmen like Warner and Sehwag are at their lethal best if they play their natural aggressive brand of cricket.

Manish Pandey started striking the ball excellently from the very beginning. The sweet sound of the bat bore indications that this might just be Pandey’s night. However, before he could convert his start into a big one, he fell unfortunately to a ball that stuck to the pitch. Pandey aimed to chip the ball over mid-off, but Thakur’s ball sticking to the pitch ensured that the ball lobbed to mid off’s hand.

Warner ended his painful stay after a run-a-ball 29, courtesy another piece of brilliance by Du Plessis on the boundary rope. Williamson got dismissed off the very next ball courtesy some mindless running from the New Zealand veteran. With the illustrious top 4 out of the game, SRH was staring down the barrel and looked in no position to post a decent target. CSK was surely licking their lips with the anticipation o having hands on the weak SRH middle order within the first 10 overs.

I have referred time and again in my writing, that middle-order batting is SRH’s weak underbelly. In fact, I suggested in my last match analysis, that Garg should be replaced by Vijay Shankar, as it gives SRH an additional bowling option. With the dynamics of IPL, so often all the predictions go wrong, and I am probably the happiest that Priyam Garg has proved me wrong tonight. For the first time, this IPL Garg got a chance to build his innings and he showed his mettle with the bat tonight.

Priyam Garg, the Indian U19 captain in the last WC, joined hands with another young kid Abhishek Sharma at the crease. The most notable aspect of their partnership was their maturity. Initially, they took 15-20 balls in the partnership to get their eyes in. They ensured that they did the basics right and kept the scoreboard ticking by milking singles. Once, they got their eyes in both Sharma and Garg unleashed themselves on the opposition.

Priyam Garg of Sunrisers Hyderabad

It was a partnership that looked pleasing to the eye. None of the youngsters tried to slog the ball- an absolute rarety in IPL cricket. Priyam batted with exuberance, playing proper cover drives, square drives, pulls to dispatch the balls to the boundary. I don’t remember the last time someone except Kohli had a strike rate of 200, playing proper textbook shots. Priyam Garg scored a half-century off 25 deliveries-an innings that is going to stay in the IPL archive for quite some time. Abhishek Sharma played ideal second fiddle to take the team total to a fighting 164.

For CSK, Sam Curran went the distance tonight against a rampaging Garg. Otherwise, Shardul Thakur was good at the death, nailing decent yorkers. Bravo, was at his usual best with his barrage of slower balls and yorkers. Both Thakur and Bravo ensured that SRH did not cross the 175 run mark. Deepak Chahar did his job swinging it upfront accounting for a couple of wickets. However, the real issue for CSK upfront had been the ineffectiveness of spin. Chawla bowled well, but picked up just a solitary wicket, whereas Jadeja was so ineffective that he could not finish his quota of 4 overs. If CSK needs to leave a mark on this tournament, their spinners need to fire, which is not happening at the moment.

CSK started in a way, as they have in the past 3 matches. Watson, being susceptible to the moving ball, was castled by an in-swinger from Bhuvi. The increasingly impressive Natarajan bowled an in-form Rayudu using the left arm’s angle. Du Plessis got run out courtesy a piece of brilliance on the field by Bairstow and CSK slumped to a disastrous powerplay yet again.

Syed Khaleel Ahmed of Sunrisers Hyderabad

Once CSK lost their top 3 in the first  6 overs, the middle order was left to play the catchup game, as they have done all season this year. Kedar Jadhav had yet another bad match, while Jadeja scored an outstanding half-century, after a slow start. However, as it has been all season for CSK, it was too little too late. MS Dhoni scored a valiant 47 and Sam Curran threatened to pull off a heist, but CSK finally fell short agonizingly by 7 runs.

So, what is happening to CSK? Is the Great CSK empire in the fall? Well, my feeling is that CSK has always shaped their template keeping Dhoni as the central character. The top order of CSK will play those 20s and 30s kind of innings to take the team total to 80 in the first 13 overs. Then Dhoni will take the chase from there on with Jadeja, Bravo for company, scoring 90-100 in the last 7 overs. Hence, any total in the range of 160-170 was something that CSK chased day in day out. However, in this edition, Dhoni is not timing the ball at all. He is either slow on the short deliveries or is finding it difficult to pick the slower ones. As a result of that, though the likes of Jadeja and Curran are contributing with the bat, the absence of the central character of the run chase is causing them to fall short. The obvious solution that comes to mind is for MS Dhoni to come up the order. He needs more balls to find his mojo now. The secret behind arresting the downward slide for CSK is for Dhoni to come out at 4.

MS Dhoni captain of Chennai Superkings

A little after-story here. Full Marks to captain Warner for using Khaleel to bowl the 19th over, after Bhuvi walked off. He could have used Samad to bowl those 5 balls, but Dhoni and Curran could have taken him to the cleaners leaving Khaleel 10-15 for the last over. Hence, he decided to kill the game in the 19th over itself using Khaleel. The fact, that the margin of victory was so little at the end for SRH only reinforces the importance of this decision of Warner.