The contrast between Matthew Hayden’s pitch report and the proceedings of the Match 44 confirms a pattern.
Hayden suggested a high-scoring game looking at the sheen on the surface. Wriddhiman Saha played a number of handsome strokes in the first Powerplay of the night, raising the hopes for a big score. However, the pitch slowed down once again. The bounce was inconsistent. Bangalore’s start and finish against Chennai Super Kings in Match 35, Mumbai’s downfall in Match 39, all highlighted the same pattern. Another similar encounter may have all but confirmed that the remaining 16 matches will follow the same flow.
MS Dhoni’s Chennai feasted on these conditions to register their ninth win of the season and become the first team to get ‘Q’ against their name in the points table, confirming their Playoff qualification. Sunrisers Hyderabad tried taking it close in the final quarter of Chennai’s run chase but eventually lost by six wickets, having fallen at least 15 runs short.
Opting to bowl first, Chennai did a majority of work in the first seven overs of the match itself. Bowling to a side with a crippled middle-order, they picked two wickets without conceding much. The scalps couldn’t have been bigger - Jason Roy and Kane Williamson. Ever since the sides were rest in 2018, 53.4 percent of Hyderabad’s runs have come from their overseas players, the most for any side.
Always in dire need of runs up top, the poor start pushed Hyderabad far back in the game too early. Roy (2) was out while charging down to break the shackles but underedged Josh Hazlewood’s length ball to Dhoni. Williamson (11) played all over a full delivery from Dwayne Bravo that swung late to be adjudged lbw.
The middle-order, exposed too early on a slow pitch against the willy Chennai bowling unit had a mountain to climb.
The innings became a constant struggle to break the shackles, as it has been the case in most games in the middle-overs in Sharjah. Saha added 23 runs for the third wicket with Priyam Garg but it came off 27 balls. Hyderabad appeared in disarray when both went in quick succession. There were no boundaries in the middle-overs up until the fourth ball of the 14th over.
Abhishek Sharma, the only Hyderabad youngster who has got going to an extent in the second leg, and Abdul Samad scored 18 each to ensure the innings reach the conclusion of a fighting total.
Rashid Khan scored a breezy 17 by the standards of the conditions as Hyderabad settled for 134. For Chennai, Bravo (2/17 in four overs) and Ravindra Jadeja (1/14 in three overs) went at less than 5 per over while Moeen Ali conceded only 5 in his solitary over. Hazlewood picked his career best in IPL - 3/24, dismissing both Sharma and Samad in the 17th over.
There was little venom in Hyderabad’s pace attack to disturb Chennai’s in-from opening duo of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis.
After only 12 runs in the first three overs, Chennai finished the Powerplay at 47 for no loss. The partnership stretched to 75 before Gaikwad was dismissed by Jason holder for 45. It was set to be a cakewalk until a jitter in the middle, which has become a norm in every run chase in this UAE leg.
Chennai lost three wickets for 5 runs in a space of seven deliveries. When Moeen (17) wanted to finish things off by beginning a charge, he was cleaned up by Rashid Khan. Holder snapped two wickets from the other end, bagging Suresh Raina (2) and du Plessis (41).
It is the beauty of these low-scoring games that a couple of tight overs elevated the asking rate to over 6 with two new batsmen at the crease and only four overs to go.
The next 10 balls brought only 6 runs. Dhoni struggled to rotate the strike. Seven years ago, there was this T20I where Dhoni opted against giving the strike to Ambati Rayudu. Today, he relied on his stroke-making to ease the nerves. Rayudu scored a boundary in the 18th over, following it with a six against a timid Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The penultimate over by Bhuvneshwar, which went for 13 runs, left only 3 runs to defend for Hyderabad in the last over.
Dhoni, 8 off nine balls at the start of the over, finished off in style to complete the formality for Chennai, though with only two balls to spare. Being the first team to be eliminated in IPL 2020, Chennai are the first to qualify for the Playoffs in IPL 2021. They got there with MS Dhoni’s 50th IPL six in the last over of the innings. The Mahi-touch indeed.