The venue of action tonight shifts to the best stadium of the tournament. It was the fidgety DK facing off against the veteran warhorse MS Dhoni. CSK had just shed their rust last match as they looked like a well-oiled engine, looking to venture on the IPL highway in cruise mode. KKR, on the other hand, had a major blip in Sharjah, after a good couple of matches and the leadership of the team was criticized heavily by a lot of experts.
DK won the toss and elected to bat first-a very rare occurrence for the Kolkata-based franchise. In fact, this was the first time in 69 matches that KKR chose to bat first after winning the toss. I felt today will be Narine’s last chance at the top of the order because of a couple of reasons. Firstly, the game will be played on a used surface i.e. the same surface where yesterday’s game had been played, hence the pace off the pitch will be a bit slow. Secondly, CSK does not have the express pace that the majority of the IPL teams boast off. However, KKR looked to have enough of Narine at the top of the order and opened with Gill and Tripathi.
The decision proved to be very good for the franchise, as Rahul Tripathi held the KKR inning together with a breath-taking 81. It is interesting how Tripathi’s skills as a finisher in the last match earned him an opening spot in the next. He looked in bludgeoning form tonight as he looked to bat on a different pitch altogether. While the rest of the KKR batsmen struggled to time the ball on a two-paced surface, Rahul Tripathi middled everything and cleared the longer boundaries with ease.
The KKR inning unfortunately was entirely about Rahul Tripathi. The next best score in the KKR line up was of Sunil Narine (17). Shubhman Gill got dismissed by Shardul Thakur as he under-edged a ball that kept low after pitching on a good length. Nitish Rana provided company to Rahul for a while and after that perished to the googly of Karn Sharma.
CSK looked to have run out of patience with Piyush Chawla. Spin forms an important artillery in the CSK bowling plans and MSD could not afford his leg spinner to hand out freebies to batsmen. Karna Sharma replaced Chawla tonight and he was up for the task straight away. Instead of the barrage of googlies that Piyush fired at the batsmen, Karn kept it slow and used his googlies judiciously to create enough doubts in the batsman’s mind. He accounted for Nitish Rana and the dangerous-looking Narine in his 4 overs and conceded only 25 from them.
Shardul Thakur has looked in tremendous bowling form this season. With the dwindling returns of Bravo, it looked like CSK would be lacking a death overs specialist this IPL. In fact, in the first few matches, they indeed faced the flack with Ngidi misfiring at the death. However, CSK let go of one extra batsman after their 3rd match and took Shardul in his place. The returns from then on have been exponential for CSK. Thakur arrested the flow of runs against KXIP with magnificent death bowling dismissing KL and Pooran in a space of 2 deliveries. Tonight as well he accounted for the 2 KKR batsmen in the line-up, who could have changed the consequence of the match – Gill, and Russell.
Wickets kept on tumbling from the other end as Tripathi held the fort. The only requirement from KKR’s perspective was a quickfire 40 from either of Morga, Russell, or Karthik which never happened. That supposed cameo could have been the difference between 167 and 187. On a pitch that is tiring, with 2 successive games, that margin of 15-20 runs could have proved to be decisive.
CSK began the chase with a good powerplay- something they have not done often in this tournament. Except for Du Plessis nicking one to DK, CSK had an otherwise perfect powerplay.
Shane Watson, as in past editions of the tournament looks a different batsman, the moment he starts to get runs under his belt. After that marathon opening partnership with Du Plessis last match, Watson has suddenly reduced his susceptibility to the ball coming in. On multiple occasions tonight Cummins tried to sneak in between his bat and pad with an inswinger. However, he was denied by a solid defense every time.
Rayudu and Watson started piling up the runs for CSK. The ease with which Watson was unleashing his pull shots in front of square only gives an indication that he is looking good for an extraordinary tournament ahead. Ambati Rayudu, on the other hand, seems to have slotted into the role of Suresh Raina very well. He is stepping in at 3 and regularly giving those 30s and 40s for the franchise- something that Raina has done for the men in yellow over the years.
CSK was cruising at the halfway mark having scored 90 off the first 10 overs. It is ironic, how a team who has been known for their finishing prowess in the slog overs, is struggling to close games in this edition of the tournament. To think that a team like CSK will not be able to score 78 off the last 10 overs is something that even staunch haters of CSK could ever imagine.
The slide started with Rayudu getting caught at long-on. Nagarkoti actually hurried Rayudu for pace there as he mistimed his loft to Gill’s hand at long-on. Dhoni, much to my relief, came out at 4 today, but his struggles with respect to his batting continued. Then Watson fell to his nemesis Narine for the 5th time in 7 matches, trapped in front of the wicket.
After that, it was a spin choke that KKR applied to CSK. Both Dhoni and Curran found it pretty tough to keep the scoreboard ticking against Chakravarthy and Narine. Curran even found it difficult to pick Chakravarthy’s ball at times. In fact, the struggles against the two mystery spinners were so prominent for CSK that they scored 39 between overs 10 and 17, losing 3 wickets in that tenure.
Varun Chakravarthy is replaying the confidence KKR showed on him and is having a mind-blowing IPL. Despite bowling all the tough overs in the powerplay and death he returned with figures of 1-8 in his 4 overs, scalping the mighty MSD in the process. Narine was equally potent about his bowling after a couple of tough matches, as he gave away only 31 from his 4 overs, picking the vital wicket of Watson, despite bowling in the slog overs.
Andre Russell was brought in just at the right time and he ensured that with his hit the deck kind of bowling, neither Jadeja nor Kedar could hit him over the boundary. Death over bowling is something Russell is specializing at, for KKR this year and hopefully, he will continue to do so in the future.
Captain DK was outstanding tonight. Opening with Rahul Tripathi, sending in Narine as a floater in the middle overs to counter spin, keeping Narine for the latter half of the inning- all of those clicked. I stated in my last article that DK gets pointlessly criticized for everything he does as a captain- but it is good to see DK being unfazed by all the criticisms.
In the last match, he bowled Varun in the 19th over and was reprimanded left and right for his decision. Kudos to DK for staying unaffected by the criticism and again bowling Varun in the slog overs today. Today Varun picked up the wicket of MSD and changed the match in the favor of his team. It was great to see Karthik smile and say at the prize distribution “ I trust in the abilities of Varun and Narine to bowl at the death.” At the end of the day, that is all that matters- the trust a leader has on his teammates.