Promoting Ravichandran Ashwin up the order turned out to be a tactical masterstroke for Rajasthan Royals. When the game became tight, his 40 not out off 23 balls became the decisive factor. Not often does Ashwin score his runs at a 173-plus strike rate. On Friday, he bossed an inexperienced Chennai Super Kings bowling attack.
His knock was the most effective on the night, with Royals winning by five wickets and two balls to spare to cement their place in the top-two of the points table, thereby getting two chances of making the final. The best innings of the match, though, came from Moeen Ali.
In came Moeen and started to play an innings of such brilliance that the fans temporarily shed the Dhoni ditty and serenaded the left-hander with ‘Moeen, Moeen’ chants.
With their season done and dusted, CSK played this game for entertainment. And the spectators were entertained by arguably the best white-ball batting of the summer yet, as Moeen made run-scoring feel like music with the lightness of touch. Going beyond trophies and milestones, sport is basically about savouring moments. Moeen’s Powerplay batting was something to savour.
The pitch became a tad sluggish and the older ball made free-scoring difficult for Moeen even. CSK were 94/3 after 10 overs. They added only 56 runs in the next 10. Moeen scored an exquisite 93 off 57 balls, but middle-overs batting yet again hurt the four-time champions. Going ahead, they also need a back-end marauder, as Dhoni’s career is gradually heading towards a golden sunset.
A depleted CSK had a callow Solanki, Pathirana’s unorthodox action and the uncapped Choudhary to fall back on at the death. Royals boasted Shimron Hetmyer’s power-hitting pedigree and Ashwin’s innovations and intelligence.
Solanki got rid of Hetmyer, but Ashwin was in fine hitting form and the asking rate was always under control. Pathirana in particular didn’t bowl to his field, making things easier for the batsmen and Ashwin saw things off to take Royals to a second-placed finish. The chest thumping added spice to his celebration.