On a track that saw 411 runs scored in less than 39 overs, it was a virtual shootout between the power hitters of Punjab and Chennai. As it turned out, Punjab’s overseas players Glenn Maxwell and David Miller outhit their counterparts from Chennai, Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum, to secure a comfortable six-wicket win.
Punjab’s successful chase of Chennai’s 205 for 4 was only the second time the side overcame a 200-plus target.
That they were able to pull it off on Friday was good news for the side that retained just two players. But it was a low-key start nonetheless for Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara, Punjab’s openers, who couldn’t manage big runs when everybody around them did.
Chennai batted first and set up what was considered a winning total only to see it chased down. But for all the runs scored, the game was not really a thriller.
Nerves of steel
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Both sides made runs at a rapid clip throughout but Punjab, perhaps benefiting from having a set target to chase, and of course from the nerveless hitting of Maxwell, and after his dismissal, Miller, running out comfortable winners.
The one moment of uncertainty in the whole game came when Maxwell edged a reverse-sweep skyward. Punjab were 91/3 in the 10th over and Maxwell was on 37. Ashish Nehra, a surprising choice at short third-man, appeared to settle under the skier, but didn’t even get his fingers on it.
Beyond that, Maxwell pretty much put the ball where he wanted to, and on those occasions that the delivery took his edge, it streaked away to the fence.
Maxwell was out in the 16th over, but by then his 95 off 43 balls had set it up well for Punjab, who only needed 39 off 26 balls with six wickets in hand. Miller finished the job, rather appropriately, with back-to-back fours in the 19th over, remaining unbeaten on 54 off 37.
Despite the comfortable win for Punjab, Chennai started ominously. Traditionally a side that began a match circumspectly before bringing in the power hitters at the end, the new-look Chennai bristles with big hitters right from the beginning.
Smith and McCullum will represent a high-octane opening pair and after that come Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo. The batting stretches beyond that too – Faf du Plessis and Jadeja did not have to step out of the dugout during the first innings.
Smith (66 off 43) and McCullum (67 off 45) put on 123 runs in just 12.1 overs, with the Kiwi opener particularly severe on tearaway Mitchell Johnson, who suffered like all other bowlers in the match. Shrugging off a toe injury to make the playing eleven, Johnson did not, however, have the returns to match his enthusiasm for the game, finishing with his side’s worst figures – wicketless for 47 runs in four overs.
McCullum went but Smith carried on for a while longer, before Raina (24 off 19) and Dhoni (26 off 11) got the side past 200. Punjab’s chase caught fire in the third over, with Pujara hitting Nehra for a couple of boundaries and then turning the strike over for Sehwag to hit two more to the fence.
Nehra hit back with a straight one, which sent Sehwag’s stumps flying and things swerved Chennai’s way the next over, when Ashwin trapped Pujara leg before with a ball that seemed to have pitched outside leg. Akshar Patel, sent in ahead of several established hitters, fell in Ashwin’s next over, again leg before.
On the money
Even at 52 for 3 in five overs, Punjab may have lost a few more wickets than was necessary, but their runrate was on the money. Maxwell and Miller then steadied the chase and then took control of it.
Chennai suffered with left arm spinners Jadeja and Pawan Negi not clicking – the two went for 80 runs in seven overs without picking up a wicket — and Dhoni couldn’t find a way to slow Punjab down.
Maxwell, who began by reverse sweeping Ashwin from well outside leg stump for a boundary in the sweeper region, employed the shot effectively to mess with Ashwin’s lines.
Against Jadeja and Negi, who both do not really flight the ball, Maxwell targetted mid-wicket. This yielded several boundaries and also denied Dhoni any control during the chase. Eventually, with no one bowler able to command any respect, Chennai slipped out of contention.
Even Maxwell’s dismissal could not turn the tide as Miller smashed 22 off the nine following balls he faced, with the match not even going into the final over.