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Chepauk brings back "whole c̶o̶u̶n̶t̶r̶y̶ Chennai against 11 guys" memories for KL

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Last updated on 03 Apr 2023 | 09:02 PM
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Chepauk brings back "whole c̶o̶u̶n̶t̶r̶y̶ Chennai against 11 guys" memories for KL

There’s a reason why Chennai have a win percentage of 82.3 at home since IPL 2015

MS Dhoni and Chennai Super Kings return to the Chepauk and everything seems alright. This is MSD’s territory and the Chepauk never lets its Thala down.

The Men in Yellow came back to their den after 1426 days and this wasn't the Chepauk of before. It was different; there were runs on offer, but the fortress still belonged to Dhoni and his men. 

"All of us were thinking how the wicket would be. We had that doubt. It was a high-scoring game. I thought the pitch would be much slower, but it was a wicket where you could score runs. I was quite surprised with the wicket,” said Dhoni after the game.

Many things didn’t work out for Chennai in their opening game against Gujarat Titans, but it all came to the party in front of their adored home fans. Well, most of them. Meanwhile, Ruturaj Gaikwad did exactly what he did on the opening night of the Indian Premier League 2023.

The right-handed opener was brutal, yet in an elegant manner, and so was Devon Conway. What else? Shivam Dube too put on a show, while Ambati Rayudu made Mark Wood look ordinary. Yup, the same Mark Wood who destroyed Delhi Capitals with his pace in their previous game. 

Wait, we are not done yet. Moeen Ali, who didn’t bowl a single over in the first game, turned the match in CSK’s favor with a four-wicket haul. Mitchell Santner was more miserly than Scrooge McDuck in his early days. If that’s not enough, even Tushar Deshpande managed to redeem himself after bowling an 11-delivery first over and actually made an ‘impact’ for CSK.

Dhoni and his men have always been revered in Chennai. They arguably have the most vocal and supporting fans amongst all IPL teams and they got their money's worth on a Monday evening. What helped was some strange decision-making from Lucknow. Oh, but it was Dhoni’s cameo that stole all the limelight.

The Chennai skipper walked out to bat on the second ball of the final over and was dismissed on the fourth delivery. However, in between, the 41-year-old clobbered Wood for two consecutive sixes and brought the roof down at the Chepauk. Fittingly, Dhoni’s knock of 12 runs ended up being the margin of victory for the hosts.

The Dhoni-Chennai love story is something that would put Titanic to shame. Yes, there have been some hurdles in the 16-year relationship but the love has never disappeared. The second edition of the IPL was played in South Africa, while no game was played at the Chepauk in 2014. CSK were then banned for two back-to-back seasons in 2016 and 2017, but made a roaring comeback in 2018. They got the better of Kolkata Knight Riders in a high-scoring affair and gave a perfect homecoming gift to their fans, but that’s when they were struck with another bad news. CSK’s home games had to be shifted to Pune due to the Cauvery turmoil and the fans were left stranded once again. 

They did get a full season in 2019, but then the pandemic happened and CSK didn’t get to play a single match in Chennai in the following three seasons. Such has been the connection between Dhoni and Chennai that the wicketkeeper-batter made it clear that he would only retire in front of his second-home crowd. 

2023 brought some good news to Chennai fans as the IPL returned to the home-away format. The MA Chidambaram Stadium was filled with fans even during the pre-season training camps and Dhoni received a Gladiator-like welcome every time he walked out on the field. And, he got an even better welcome when he walked out for the toss alongside Rahul and Ian Bishop.

"It does mean a lot to be back here. IPL started in 2008 but we've not played a lot of cricket here. Only about 5-6 seasons we've been here. This is the first time the full stadium will be operational; a few stands were empty earlier. Really glad that we get to play all our home games here at Chepauk, means a lot," said Dhoni at the toss as the Chennai crowd came unglued.

The onus was now on Thala’s army to entertain the crowd and boy they didn’t disappoint. It all started with Conway (29-ball 47) and Gaikwad (31-ball 57) taking down LSG bowlers in the powerplay, smashing 79 runs in the first six overs - the third-highest for them in their IPL history. 

Lucknow’s think-tank made their life easier by bowling Krunal Pandya and K Gowtham in the powerplay despite the two openers being phenomenal against spin. Those two overs yielded 27 runs for Chennai, with 20 coming off Gowtham. 

If that wasn’t enough, Wood only got to bowl two deliveries to Dube who clearly struggles against high pace. The tall left-hander made the most of it and whacked Yash Thakur and Ravi Bishnoi. With Bishnoi having completed his full quota of overs, Rayudu faced more fast bowlers - his strong suit - and the 37-year-old played a brisk cameo of 27* off 14 deliveries. 

The surface was superb for batting and LSG openers, Kyle Mayers (22-ball 53) in particular, ripped apart CSK’s pacers. Everything was going well till Moeen and Santner came into the attack. From 79 for no loss to 130/5, LSG lost all momentum in the middle phase (7-15). Having operated at 13.3 in the powerplay, Lucknow could only score at 7.8 in the middle overs.

The Super Giants did get close to the total but the match was all-but over once Nicholas Pooran perished in the 16th over. Deepak Chahar had a rough night but Deshpande came back well after leaking 18 runs in his first over. In his next three overs, the right-armer claimed two wickets for 27 runs. Dhoni wasn’t too impressed with his pacers, especially on the extras’ front, but he would take these two points to get the campaign going. 

"It's the whole country against 11 guys," Rahul once said during a Test in South Africa. Well, he didn’t go up against the entire nation on Monday, but the home crowd surely gave him a taste of what it feels like to take on Dhoni with the entire Chennai army watching his back. After all, there’s a reason why Chennai have a win percentage of 82.3 at home since IPL 2015.

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