The contest between CSK and RR is not one of the most glamorous ones in IPL. People tend to forget, that these 2 teams were the first-ever finalists in the history of the tournament. However, that contest aside the Royals and the Super Kings have had some riveting contest over the last few years and it was indeed a spectacle to watch the rivalry between the T20 superstars and Dad’s army.
RR was dealt with the heaviest of blows much before they faced their first ball of the tournament. Stokes and Butler, the stalwarts of the team’s batting were out of this match, due to different reasons. While Butler is expected to feature in the playing 11 from the next match onwards after his quarantine, the team is yet to have any concrete update on Ben Stokes.
CSK won the toss and chose to chase on a flat pitch, with short boundaries. I must say, Smith took an excellent decision to open the innings alongside young Yashasvi Jaiswal. The importance of sheet anchors in the T20 game has been emphasized time and again by experts and the best position for a sheet anchor to play his role is from the opening spot. I hope Smith continues to open along with Butler, once the later returns to the team.
After the initial wicket, it was a Sanju Samson show altogether. He is an excellent batsman when he is hitting down the ground and the CSK bowlers allowed him to do that. It was a rare off day for both the CSK spinners who could not use the slowness of the pitch to good effect. While good length or short of good length is an ideal length to bowl on these slow pitches, both Chawla and Jadeja kept on pitching the ball up in the slot, allowing Samson to hit through the line. However, that takes nothing away from the clean hitting abilities of Samson. He scored 9 sixes in his blistering innings of 74 off 32 balls and he will hope to continue this form through the tournament, unlike last year. A good IPL can indeed open national doors for this talented batsman from Kerala.
After Samson fell to Ngidi, a brief collapse followed, where some intelligent bowling from CSK and smart field placement from Dhoni ensured that RR was unable to run away with the match in the first innings itself. There is particular merit in how Dhoni used Chawla to complete his 4 overs, despite the leg spinner being hammered for 47 in his first 2 overs. Chawla was used against an under-confident Uthappa, who has historically shown discomfort against spin at the beginning of the innings. Ultimately Chawla conceded just 8 of his next 2 overs and picked the prized scalp of Uthappa.
Captain Smith was the glue, who held the innings together with his innings of 69 and ensured that the innings did not fall away after Samson’s dismissal. CSK was successful to pull back the game as well, as they managed to restrict RR to 186-7 in 19 overs. CSK was dreaming of restricting RR to under 200 when Jofra Archer struck. Lungi Ngidi, who has made a name for himself in death bowling, went through a nightmarish over to concede 4 consecutive sixes to Jofra Archer, along with 2 NO balls. A 30 run final over ensured that RR breached the 200-run mark and RR went into the break with the momentum in their favor.
CSK started the chase well. The jitters shown at the crease, in the last match by the opening duo were no more there. Watson’s feet were moving fast and he was unleashing his cover drives and pulls to good effect. CSK raced to 54 in their first 6 overs. Problems began once the RR spinners started to dominate the proceedings. Unlike their CSK counterparts, Rahul Tewatia and Shreyas Gopal bowled just short of a good length and extracted maximum purchase from this dry pitch at Sharjah.
The spinners bamboozled the entire top order of CSK, accounting for Watson, Curran, Vijay, and Ruturaj. It was traditional spin bowling at its very best with the bowlers looping the ball and turning it from good length- a very rare pleasant sight to visualize in the fast-paced franchise cricket world.
Du Plessis played a lone hand with a bit of support from Jadhav. Du Plessis is looking in great touch, from the first match itself, and at some point of time in the league, CSK will look to reinstate him at the top of the order with Watson. Though it was a highly entertaining chase, at no point of time in the chase did CSK look like overhauling the gargantuan target set by RR.
Now let’s try to answer the burning question that is going to brew up post this match- Dhoni’s batting position. The first reason why questions will be raised is that his strategy did not work today. Historically, in sports entertainment when a captain’s strategy works, he is called a mastermind, and it fails he is subjected to questions. No different for MSD- had Sam Curran gone on and scored a brisk half-century today, it would have been called a masterstroke. Secondly, questions will be raised, because Dhoni batted pretty well when he came to bat at 7. There was a bit of rustiness, as you would expect but it was typical Dhoni at the fore, smashing sixes at will in the last over. But the game was already over by then. Had Dhoni come in at 5, would the result have been in favor of CSK? You never know.
Though its impossible to read MSD’s mind, I would say the most probable reason why he brought himself down in the pecking order is that he was not particularly confident of his performance due to lack of match practice. Yes, he has been training for the IPL, but it needs to be kept in mind that Dhoni played his last competitive game 1.5 years ago. So, probably he felt his fellow mates, with match practice, would have performed better in the upper-middle order.
However, it’s a surety that since Dhoni looked in form tonight and he was striking the ball sweetly, fans would increasingly find him coming up the order in the future matches. And we as cricket fans dearly hope that the legend “finishes it off in style” this IPL.