Match 12: CSK vs RR, Chennai
There’s an unsquashable, India-rubber quality about CSK.
You can sneer at their ‘Dad’s army’ lineup of ageing warhorses; you can on paper find all the cracks in the batting, and the bowling, and the fielding; you can pit them against teams that, man for comparable man, are clearly better – and somehow, CSK finds ways to come out on top. It’s like those wrestling matches – the opponent puts the guy on the mat and he wriggles and does something with his hips and next thing you know, it is the opponent who is pinned to the mat and begging for mercy.
Rajasthan Royals won the toss and opted to bowl first – good call, because with the Chennai pitch, who can tell? This one was different to the nightmare wicket used for game one but given the heat, the humidity and the time of year, it is always a lottery.
The pitch turned out to be one of those in-between ones. Moist underneath, likely because it was watered to try and change its character, with a spongy tennis ball bounce that was likely to make timing difficult. And then, the dew: Chennai natives will tell you this is not the season for dew, but here it was almost like a steady drizzle, right from the start of the game. By the halfway stage of the first innings it got so bad the ball had to be changed twice because, once wet, it tended to split down the seam.
Rajasthan started brilliantly. Between Dhawal Kulkarni and Jofra Archer with an assist from Ben Stokes, they had CSK on the ropes and almost down for the count. The key was in discipline: The lines were tight on the stumps, the lengths full. After a single off the second ball of the innings, there were 9 successive dot balls. Archer’s first five balls were not scored off; the pressure began to tell. Ambati Rayudu saw one outside off and went for it; Archer’s pace and bounce forced the nick off.
Ben Stokes came in for Dhawal and Watson, who had played out six successive dots before getting off the blocks with a six and a four, hit at a length ball outside off that bounced more than he expected, and Archer at short third man held the overhead with ease. Kedar Jadhav hit the first two balls he faced for fours; Dhawal Kulkarni did for him with a fuller ball outside off that the batsman slashed at without moving his feet, and the keeper was back in business. By the time the powerplays were done, CSK was 29/3; Kulkarni with 1/13 in two and Archer with one for two in two had done their team proud.
And then CSK did that thing it does. The experienced Raina and Dhoni got together and started to tap it around; the former cashing in on rare lapses in line to go big, the latter batting as if it was the early stages of a 50-over game. The progression seemed painfully slow: 29 for three at the end of the powerplay; 55/3 at the end of ten; a nowhere score of 99/4 after 15, losing Raina to an attempt to step away and slog at a straight, full delivery from Jaidev Unadkat.
And then, the great escape: Dhoni gradually eased through the gears and brought up his 21st half century (53/39 with four fours and a six) in the IPLs; Bravo went big on both sides of the wicket until he mishit a lifting delivery from the classy Joffra Archer to midwicket; Jadeja came out and did his bit and in one stunning assault, MS Dhoni finished off the innings with three sixes off Unadkat to go with the one Jadeja hit off the first ball of the over.
The last 18 balls produced 60 runs – and that, despite Archer bowling superbly in the 19th to give away just ten. Dhoni finished with 75 off 46 with four fours and four sixes to the non-stop cheering of a Chennai crowd that fetishizes its “Thala”.
CSK ended up on 175/5 and you had to think it was the closest thing you can get on a cricket field to the sort of escape act that made Houdini famous in his day. Spare a thought though for Joffra Archer – 13 deliveries of the 24 he bowled were dot balls; only two fours were scored off him; he ended with 4-1-17-2, looking unplayable even when Dhoni was going flat out.
Strategy-wise, you had to say Rahane, having handled his bowling resources very well till then, messed up at the very end. Though he had an over of the experienced Stokes, he gave the 20th to Unadkat. Jadeja put him under pressure with a second ball six, and the less experienced bowler went to pieces as Dhoni took to him with three successive sixes in an over that went for 28, after the otherwise reliable Dhawal had gone for 24 in the 18th.
The key to Rajasthan doing well lay in the first 15 overs. Chennai had made just 99 at that stage. The Royals needed to get off to a good start. They didn’t. To the second ball of the first over, bowled as always by Deepak Chahar, Rahane drove a little away from his body and Jadeja at point dived headlong forward to pull off a blinder. Sanju Samson reminded us of his form with a dreamy square drive off Chahar in the bowler’s second over, then played an airy drive, away from his body, one hand coming off the handle, and Raina at cover dived to take a catch that was carbon copy to the one Jadeja had held. Buttler had a waft at Shardul Thakur in the fourth over and scooped an easy catch to mid off. And Rahul Tripathi, who despite a badly twisted ankle was hitting the ball well (39/24) was foxed by an Imran Tahir slower leg break and spooned a return catch. At 75/4 at the end of ten, RR were ahead of CSK on runs but the four wickets lost had put it behind the eight ball on the chase.
Steve Smith, who unlike his partner in crime David Warner hasn’t yet hit anything like peak form on his comeback, and Ben Stokes got together in a reviving partnership but the pressure was always building, and Tahir nailed it when he tempted Smith with a tossed-up delivery that the batsman took on the full and hit down the throat of long off (28 off 30).
RR reached 111/5 at the end of 15, a mere 12 more than CSK had made that stage and still needing 65 in 30, so the only way they were going to win it was if they had a Dhoni-quality player for a late assault.
Stokes and Archer combined into one Dhoni. Archer hit a lovely straight six off the last ball of the 17th; Stokes began the 18th, from Bravo, with a six over cover and a scooped four behind the keeper; then Archer did another of his free-flowing straight drives onto the roof of the stadium. The ask was down to 25 off the last 12. Stokes swung Thakur over backward square; MS Dhoni frowned for the first time this IPL.
Bravo, one of the premier death bowlers, had 13 to defend in the last over. The first ball was on off, Stokes hit it right off the screws, and Raina at mid-off dived sideways to pull off another great catch to end Stokes’ 46 off 26 – and the whistles began to resound again in the stadium. That was all Bravo needed to shut the game down, and he did it with the ease of the expert, completing an eight run CSK victory.
The story of Royals this season seems to be this: They look dominant for large chunks of every game they play, and then find a way to lose. As for the story of CSK, now with three wins in three, the tale has already reached the mythic proportions that takes a Homer to do full justice, and this game added another compelling chapter to that epic.