MS Dhoni scored an unbeaten 75 off 46. © BCCI
A late cameo from Ben Stokes and an allround effort from Jofra Archer was not enough to prevent Chennai Super Kings from making it three out of three in the 2019 Indian Premier League as the defending champions edged past Rajasthan Royals in a tight contest. The game appeared to be out of Royals’ reach at one point before Stokes exploded at the death, with good support from Archer. But eventually, the experience of Dwayne Bravo came to the fore as the Royals lost their third successive game.
How did the pitch behave?
Much better than it did on the opening night. There was enough carry and the ball certainly didn’t turn a mile as it did against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Dew, however, played a major role with bowlers finding it difficult to control the lengths as the game progressed. Royals seamer Jofra Archer termed it the ‘worst conditions’ he has ever bowled in because of the trouble he had in bowling fuller deliveries with the wet ball. Despite that, Super Kings actually made a very slow start scoring at less than six per over for one half of the innings. They also lost the wickets of Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson and Kedar Jadhav in this phase scoring just 55 in the first ten overs.
Then what happened?
MS Dhoni happened. He was the difference between a total of 140 and 175. The Super Kings skipper played one of his best IPL knocks finishing with an unbeaten 75 off just 46 balls. At the end of the 15th over, he was batting only on 29 off 27. But then, he switched gears in the final five overs to help his side score 76 runs, 46 off which came from Dhoni’s bat. After opting to not take risks against Archer, Dhoni targeted the two Indian pacers Dhawal Kulkarni and Jaydev Unadkat. The left-arm seamer in particular bore the brunt of the attack as Dhoni smashed him for three sixes in the final over.
Was 176 too much?
Definitely not. Yes, the Super Kings had variety in their attack. But with a wet ball, on a much better batting track and with an in-form top 3, Royals could have certainly fancied their chances. With Super Kings’ heavy spin attack expected to be neutralised, the Royals had to just see through the new ball spell of Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur with the ball nipping around. But that’s where they faltered. Chahar looked very dangerous moving the ball constantly away from the right-handers. The two seamers combined to remove Ajinkya Rahane, Sanju Samson and Jos Buttler in the first 19 deliveries, forcing the Royals to play catch up.
Tahir still stood out
There’s little doubt that at 40, Imran Tahir is perhaps the world’s best wristspinner in limited overs cricket. The conditions might not have been favourable but the South African still delivered. He saw Mitchell Santner and Ravindra Jadeja concede 49 runs in four overs combined but he didn’t allow that to intimidate him. He consistently mixed his variations and was in his elements, posing questions to the batsmen. The reward? Wickets of a struggling Steve Smith and a dangerous looking Rahul Tripathi. He finished with match-winning figures of 2-23 in four overs.
How did it get so close?
Losing half the side, Royals needed 79 from the final six overs. At that stage, victory seemed like a mere formality for the home side before Stokes decided to turn on the heat. While he kept fighting with the odd boundary, Archer came in and found a four and a six straightaway to ease the pressure at the other end. Having already picked up two wickets, conceding just 17, Archer hit Bravo for another six in the 18th over to bring the equation down to 25 off 12 that gave his side a real chance. But with 12 needed from the final six, Stokes fell off the first ball and the West Indian allrounder closed out the game from there on to give his side an 8-run win.
What’s next for these two teams?
Having lost three out of three, the Royals will face the other team with an identical records as theirs – RCB. Super Kings, the only team that’s unbeaten in the tournament, go to the Wankhede on April 3rd to face their biggest rivals Mumbai Indians in what promises to be a cracking encounter.