Such is the strength of Chennai Super Kings’ batting-order that Faf du Plessis’s underwhelming run prior to the Kings XI Punjab game — 24, 7, 20 and 0 — have hardly mattered to them. The chase of a 200-plus score against Punjab may have been beyond them, but Chennai used the second innings to get du Plessis in touch. His 52 off 25 signalled a return to form, bolstering an already robust line-up.
With all batsmen fit and firing, it was natural for coach Stephen Fleming not to look too concerned after Mumbai Indians put up 159 batting first. The batsmen justified the coach’s faith, chasing down the target with three balls and four wickets to spare, to end the defending champions’ 10-match unbeaten run at home and severely dent their hopes of making the playoffs.
Chennai’s only hiccup came when Lasith Malinga (2/15 in four overs) sent down an assortment of slow and quick yorkers to bowl du Plessis and Ravindra Jadeja in successive overs at the death. MS Dhoni tonked a six and a four in the final over bowled by Kieron Pollard to seal the match. If Chennai ended their innings in style, they started well too.
A breezy knock
Former Mumbai player Dwayne Smith returned to haunt them with a breezy 57 from 51 balls, setting up the chase for the visitors. Smith, let go by Mumbai during the auction earlier this year, and du Plessis put on 63 for the third wicket to take the game away from Mumbai despite their fight back of sorts led by Praveen Kumar.
The medium-pacer had played only seven limited-overs matches in the 2013-14 domestic season and had gone unsold in the IPL auction. Kumar was not even in contention a couple of days ago but was rushed into the side following an injury to Zaheer Khan, hardly spending any time in the nets.
On Saturday, he made the most of the rare opportunity he got. After a loose first over, he strangled Chennai batsmen with his accurate lines and two-way swing, trapping Brendon McCullum leg before. He then returned to pick up the wicket of the other opener Smith as Mumbai sensed a chance. It was then that Malinga sent back du Plessis and Jadeja in quick succession, but Dhoni was there to see his side through.
Earlier, Mumbai’s batting looked unconvincing with Lendl Simmons’ run-a-ball 38 being one of the few bright spots. But one wonders if their solution to their opening difficulties may have come too late in the season.