Synopsis: Raina’s spunky cameo allowed Watson to rediscover his touch at his own pace as Pandey’s knock went in vain.
Raina’s match-turning cameo
There is a story that Raina used to recount about the change in his outlook that is worth re-looking here. He was in deep strife after an injury had laid him low before the IPL tournament began to take shape a decade back and was seriously worried about his career when he recovered in time. He ran into the likes of Matthew Hayden at Chennai and a team meeting in particular is close to his heart. Here it is in his own words: “There was a meeting before a KKR game. Someone said we should take a few balls to settle in, assess the pitch. Hayden stood up, and said: ‘No, I will take Ishant Sharma or whoever from the first ball.’ I am thinking, ‘Yaar, pehli ball sey marega? (He will hit from the first ball?) and he did exactly that. Went in, and tak-a-tak diya. Then I thought, I should play more freely — main bhi maar saktha hoon. (I can also hit).”
That confidence has been visible through his outstanding IPL career and was seen on Tuesday night as well. He walked in after Faf du Plessis was run out and with Watson struggling, Raina started off with a peachy off-drive off Bhuvneshwar Kumar past the non-striker. Then came the crucial sixth over when he hit four fours and a six off Sandeep Sharma. A crunching pull, two drag swipes to banish the slower ones to the boundary behind square-leg, a charge down the track, and another walloping pull for a six. Suddenly, not only were Chennai back in the game but also had the momentum.
Watson rediscovers his touch
That Raina cameo was what Watson needed. With the pressure of run-scoring off him, the Aussie started to breathe easy and rediscovered his touch at his own pace. It’s also a tribute to the leadership style of MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming, who back their key players even if out of touch and give them a long run to get out of the rut. Watson has been a beneficiary of that philosophy, and Ambati Rayudu too is receiving that this year.
The chase came down to two middle overs bowled by Rashid Khan – the 14th and the 16th. Just before that, Watson had started to get into the flow, especially after Raina was stumped off a crafty Khan googly, and the runs had begun to come at a flood. Not having the luxury to hold back Khan for the end overs, Hyderabad brought him on against Watson.
Watson has never been dismissed by Khan in any T20 game around the world. It’s quite a stat and also the reason behind a bit of friction seen between the two in the middle. A shoulder nudge from Watson as Khan kept staring at him, a few words exchanged in later spells but only one thing was constant: Watson’s domination.
Chennai were 109/2 at the start of the 14th over and Watson bludgeoned Khan, who gave away 21 and 16 runs in his two overs. Game over.
It’s clear that Khan loses his cool and art when he is against Watson. Short balls, full tosses, and over-pitched deliveries and Watson made him pay each and every time. Slog-sweep, conventional sweep, that bent-knee pull and a stretch-forward-and-heave dismantled Khan.
Pandey’s knock in vain
It was the perfect kind of pitch for Manish Pandey — no fizz for the fast bowlers and a touch slow without being sluggish. Perhaps that was the reason for his promotion to No.3. Also taking into consideration Chennai’s bowling attack, filled as it is with slow(er) bowlers. Pandey could trust his attacking instincts and allow his hands and wrists to play with the flourish he does on his better days. When the bowling attack has more fast options, Pandey can do a lot of predetermination with his shot selection and get himself into trouble.
He started off with a fluent lofted drive over mid-off off Harbhajan Singh and through his innings, managed to avoid the innate temptation to drag it to the onside, as he can sometimes do to his own detriment. Right through, he maintained his shape – easier as he didn’t predetermine much – and kept playing proper shots. And as ever, he ran hard between wickets with David Warner and the runs kept coming. Hyderabad were left to rue the lack of a powerful finish to their innings and, in particular, Vijay Shanker’s 20-ball 26. He had come in at 120/2 in the 14th over but dawdled along for a bit and Hyderabad perhaps lost 25 extra runs that could have made the difference.