Synopsis: Old man with the golden arm strikes up front and forces Gayle to play an uncharacteristic innings. But in a see-saw battle, Hussey’s half-ton prove to be the difference.
Old man with the golden arm
MS Dhoni won the toss on a brown pitch and decided to field. Curious, for batting first appeared to be the best option on that surface. Also, the Chennai Super Kings had lost the Qualifier 1 chasing. This game, against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, didn’t offer a second opportunity.
Midway into the Bangalore innings, it, however, appeared to be the best decision in the world. Virat Kohli and company could only manage 46 runs in their first 10 overs, losing three wickets; the lowest for Bangalore in this IPL. They were 29 for two after six overs, the lowest powerplay score of this edition.
Ashish Nehra has been a revelation this season. The old man with the golden arm once again did the early damage, accounting for Kohli and AB de Villiers. He was a tad lucky on both occasions. Kohli helped an innocuous delivery on the leg stump straight to Mohit Sharma at short fine leg. Five balls later, de Villiers was given out leg before to a ball that pitched fractionally outside the leg stump.
Playing in front of his home crowd, Dhoni began in a proactive fashion. The decision to bowl Ravichandran Ashwin up front worked beautifully.
The off-spinner gave only 13 runs in his four overs and took the in-form batsman Mandeep Singh’s wicket. The latter was deceived by the flight as he went for a sweep from outside the off stump. The 40-year-old Michael Hussey grabbed a stunner, running in from deep backward square leg and diving full length.
An uncharacteristic innings
Chris Gayle was playing an uncharacteristic innings at the other end. He went into a shell after hitting Nehra for a six over covers early on. But the Chennai bowlers started to take the pace off the ball, so the ‘big man’ decided to bide his time. He concentrated on picking the singles, temporarily suppressing his aggression.
Enough was enough, though. And as Suresh Raina came into bowl after the second strategic time-out, Gayle greeted him with a couple of sixes. Raina’s response was a seam-up delivery that forced a top edge. The bowler ran back about 20 yards from his follow-through to take the skier. Gayle’s dismissal (41 runs off 43 balls) kept Chennai in the ascendency.
Dinesh Karthik was batting sensibly. But he was not the one to take the game away from the opposition. Nehra removed him on the second ball of his new spell. The big-buy keeper-batsman went for 28 off 26 balls — his highest score in this IPL. Young Sarfaraz Khan played a good hand to take the score to 139. Wickets were falling around him but the 17-year-old kept his composure.
Dhoni, however, was spot-on with his judgment. On a spin-friendly wicket, Chennai’s two left-arm spinners, Ravindra Jadeja and Pawan Negi were held back till the back end of the innings. Both got one over each before Dhoni brought back his seamers. Dew had started to make its presence felt and the reason behind the captain’s choice — to bowl first — was already evident.
A see-saw battle
Not for nothing Chennai were carrying a retired international in their ranks. Dhoni believed in Hussey’s ability and knew his service would be required after Brendon McCullum’s departure. In a see-saw battle, Hussey’s 56 off 46 balls turned out to be the difference. Karthik must be ruing the dropped catch on 11.
Bangalore had a bad day in the field. They floored sitters, missed easy run out chances and conceded extra runs. But Kohli’s never-say-die attitude kept them in the game till the end. Every time Chennai looked to be in control of the proceedings, the men in red came back with double blows.
Yuzvendra Chahal got rid of Faf du Plessis and Raina inside three balls, and at 61 for three, the match returned on an even footing. Hussey and Dhoni put on a 47-run partnership for the fourth wicket with the former contributing 36 of those runs. Hussey got out with 32 runs still required from 22 balls. Newcomer Pawan Negi dispatched Harshal Patel over deep mid-wicket but was run out in the penultimate over, thanks to a direct hit from Sarfaraz. Starc castled Bravo in the next ball and Bangalore once again sniffed a chance.
Five required from six balls now. Dhoni took a couple of twos in the first three balls from Patel before edging him to the keeper. But Ashwin held his nerve and managed a single behind square. Chennai reached the final, winning by three wickets with one ball remaining. This is their sixth IPL final in eight years. In a re-run of the 2013 title showdown, they will face Rohit Sharma’s Mumbai Indians on Sunday.