Match 23: CSK vs KKR in Chennai
I once watched explosives experts demolish a huge building. They took a dozen chunks of high explosive, each slightly larger than a golf ball, and placed it in various strategic points within. Each went off in sequence, each explosion little more than a small bang, a sudden puff. And yet, as the last one went off, the ‘legs’ of the building sort of sagged, and the whole edifice imploded on itself.
The nearest thing this IPL has seen to such a demolition job is the implosion of KKR, arguably the strongest batting lineup in the tournament, against CSK. Sure, the Super Kings have won 16 of the last 17 played at the MA Chidambaram Stadium – but this wasn’t about history so much as it was about perfect execution of strategy and tactics.
The whole plan, executed on a Chennai wicket that tended to be slow, and on the lower side, revolved around this: Slow the ball down, and bowl it outside each batsman’s natural hitting zone.
The perfect example was the second wicket, which fell to Harbhajan Singh in the second over of the innings. Strategy: the off spinner to the left-handed Sunil Naraine. Tactic: Slow, and wide. Bajji bowled it around 76k, around the 5th stump and turning further away. Naraine – who had lost his partner Chris Lynn in the first over – went for the loft over extra cover, got it on the toe of the bat, and Deepak Chahar at short fine run forward to take a lunging catch.
Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana and Dinesh Karthik all fell to variations of this ploy of either keeping the ball wide of a batsman’s preferred go-to shot, or cramping the shot for room. Two others – Shubman Gill and Piyush Chawla – fell to Imran Tahir and Harbhajan Singh who refused to give them the length they needed, forced them to come out of the crease, and had them stumped.
On a track like this, the fortunes of the bowling side hinges on how the spinners go, and CSK’s three seasoned tweakers went well. Bajji, bowling as well as anyone has seen him bowl, had 2/15 in his four; Tahir 2/21 and Jadeja gave away just 17 for his wicket – that is a combined haul of 5 for 53 in 12 overs of spin. But the match-winner for CSK was Deepak Chahar.
He doesn’t look like much, Chahar – at around 132k tops, he is the kind of trundler Indian domestic cricket chews up and spits out season after season. But Dhoni sees something in him and trusts him to open on any kind of conditions – and on the evidence, Dhoni has a great eye for talent. Chahar destroyed the KKR lineup inside the power plays: First he straightened one off length to nail Lynn in front; he then cramped Nitish Rana on the pull the batsman loves to play and took him out via a lovely diving take at mid-on by Ambati Rayudu; he then preyed on Uthappa’s need to dominate, and slowed a short of length delivery down to cause a mistime on the pull. 3-0-14-3 in the powerplays; KKR 29/4 in six and the game virtually over as a contest.
There are few sights as sad as seeing a Lamborghini or a Jaguar trying to negotiate metro traffic – unless it is watching Andre Russell (who, last year on this ground, played an almost mythic innings of 88 runs with 11 sixes off just 36 balls) come out to bat in the 9th over and try to bat through the rest of the innings. Like the best of muscle cars, Dre Russ is at his best full throttle; here, he had to idle in first gear for most of his innings and it wasn’t a pretty sight. To compound it, just as the death overs approached and the muscular Jamaican got into his comfort zone, he hurt his right wrist and the pain hampered both his timing and power. Experience and muscle memory got him to an unbeaten 50 off 44 with five fours and three sixes (just under half of his side’s total of 108/9) – but a Dre Russell batting at 113.6 strike rate is not a sight you want to see too often.
CSK knocked off 40 of the 109 required inside the powerplay. They lost Shane Watson and Suresh Raina in the process, but more due to the over-exuberance of the batsmen (and in the case of Raina, a brilliant catch running backwards from mid-off by Piyush Chawla) than any particular cleverness on the part of the bowlers.
They needed 4.99 RPO from that point, and the only academic interest was how soon they could get it – tricky, despite the small total, because on the sluggish Chennai pitch, batsmen get very little pace off the pitch to work with -- and therefore how by how much they could improve their net run rate. Not by much – an out of form Rayudu and a Faf du Plessis struggling for timing on a wicket where the ball just wouldn’t get to the bat limped along till the 15th over before the former holed out. Kedar Jadhav came out ahead of MS Dhoni, with a “what is this nonsense” air about him; the innings got a move on, Faf came into his own once the spinners were off, and CSK ambled home with seven wickets and 16 balls to spare.
When Tahir had Gill stumped in the 11th over, KKR’s win% dipped by 9% and their overall win% was at 5%. However, it was Chahar who started KKR’s downfall initially, picking up the wicket of Uthappa in the fifth over after being hit for a couple of boundaries. At that point, KKR’s win% was 23.
As far as CSK’s innings is concerned, their win% dipped by 7 in the 5th over when Narine removed Raina. They took the match deeper than they would have wanted to, but in the 6th over Jadhav and du Plessis scored 8 off Prasidh Krishna’s over, their win% reached 93, which was the highest in the entire match.
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