Synopsis: Chennai’s bowlers hunt as a pack and keep tightening the screws to ensure Punjab are restricted. Then, Raina and du Plessis see off an early threat on way to an easy win.
Hunting as a pack
Alongside Dwayne Bravo, Ashish Nehra has proved one of CSK’s strongest performers this season. Indeed, the two have picked up 40 percent of the wickets claimed by their side this edition. However, Nehra’s knack of picking up early wickets meant that CSK’s other deficiencies on the field were hidden. Punjab would have been hoping to target the other weak links. On Saturday, though, there would be no let up in the pressure. At the end of the first ten overs, every CSK bowler on the scoreboard had a wicket to his name. A slow angled delivery by left-arm spinner Pawan Negi induced Wriddhiman Saha to carve a simple catch at cover in just the third over. Nehra would strike off his very first ball of the match, in the fifth over, when he had rival skipper George Bailey edging behind. Ishwar Pandey first tied down Manan Vohra and then got him to slash a wide ball straight to third man in the sixth over. R Ashwin had Gurkeerat Singh stumped for 15 while an over later, Ravindra Jadeja ensured that Glenn Maxwell’s woeful IPL ended with another low score. The Australian had scratched his way to 6 off 14 balls when he was castled by a flat turner. By the end of the 10th over, Punjab were tottering at 56/5.
With the hosts’ run-rate under six at the halfway stage, recovery was going to be difficult. David Miller and Axar Patel failed to read the variations used by left-arm spinners Jadeja and Negi and apart from the occasional boundary, scored around a run a ball. The packed off-side and tight line meant Miller couldn’t play his natural game. Miller and Patel played 16 dot balls during their partnership. Next man Rishi Dhawan too couldn’t break the shackles for the hosts. Of the 20 deliveries faced by the Himachal Pradesh batsman, eight were dot balls. Indeed in the last ten overs of the innings, Punjab only managed four boundaries and three sixes — two of which came in the penultimate over bowled by Dwayne Bravo. The 19th over, which fetched Punjab 14 runs, was also the only over in which more than 10 runs were scored.
Seeing off early threat
Punjab might have been restricted but they would have felt early wickets would keep them in the match. Sandeep Sharma has consistently picked wickets up front, and he performed once again, getting Michael Hussey to nick an away going delivery in the very first over. South African pacer Beuran Hendricks then had danger man Brendon McCullum chopping on to his stumps in the very next over. At 10/2 , CSK’s position was precarious. However, Suresh Raina and Faf du Plessis saw off the initial threat. Neither Raina nor du Plessis refused to let the bowlers put any sort of pressure on them. Raina punched Sandeep through the covers in his next over and then hitting two boundaries off Gurkeerat Singh in the fifth over. At the other end, du Plessis slapped a four through the covers off Hendricks.
It was risk free-hitting with the sole blemish being when Raina, attempting a straight drive off part-time spinner Maxwell, hit a hard chance back at the bowler. The ball popped in and then straight out off Maxwell’s hand and just like that the chance was gone. The two batsmen kept rotating the strike as well, thus further deflating the home team. In between the deft placement, du Plessis struck some big hits as well. In the 12th over, he clobbered Axar Patel for a six and a four in the mid-wicket region to move to 49, and a single off his legs the next over brought up his fifty.
Du Plessis would fall in the 14th over, but by then he had raised 92 for the third wicket with Raina, and the match was steadily moving in the direction of a Chennai win.