For the first time in a little more than a decade, the Chennai Super Kings’ fierce loyalists were a divided lot going into their grand Indian Premier League homecoming following their two-year ban.
Social issues play a key construct in the Tamil Nadu’s fabric. After widespread agitations last week over the Cauvery water issue, few from the film fraternity, who are massive players in TN’s social and political framework, questioned why MA Chidambaram should be hosting games in the first place.
There were calls for moving Chennai’s games outside the state. Then, there were the ones who wanted fans to vent their ire by swapping their yellow for black during the games.
One of the most popular voices of the state announced that he won’t be doing commentary for the game as the issue gathered steam on social media. Some staunch faithfuls even decided against watching the match.
As the clocked ticked towards the start of the much-awaited contest, there were fears of the match being called off altogether: There were widespread demonstrations from metres away from the stadium.
An unprecedented number of security personnel were deployed. Scant little was going to challenge the fans’ resolve. They had sent out a message that entertainment and politics do not mix and match – after all, it was nearly a 35-month wait to see MS Dhoni lead the franchise that established him as the captain supreme of modern day white-ball cricket.
But the wait continued. By this time, the sea of yellow had taken their seats and in full volume, anxious. There was an uncharacteristic delay during the toss and an almighty roar went around the ground when Dhoni made the right call. Almost nothing had changed in the CSK-verse. Suresh Raina was displaying cat-like reflexes on the field, Dwayne Bravo was dancing away to glory. The good ol’ days were back again.
Ecstasy that tuned into agony
Some protests continued inside the stadium too. There were reports of shoes being thrown in the direction of substitute fielder Faf du Plessis and Ravindra Jadeja.
By the 10th over, it was turning into quite a party. Even though After Kolkata pressed home early advantage, quick wickets had reduced the visitors to 89/5. And then came a hailstorm in the form of Andre Russell. The burly West Indian was fighting his own personal battle here after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
From thereon, Tamil Nadu versus Karnataka took a backseat. It was a battle for bragging rights between Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. Russell picked apart Bravo during his brutal essay, which even saw him hammer the ball out of the park with a jaw-dropping 105-metre six. Kolkata had set a humongous 203-run target.
Chennai got off to a dream start through openers Ambati Rayudu and Shane Watson. But dark clouds once again engulfed the world that was bright and yellow. The two-time champions were struggling to keep up. Their second favourite son, Raina, perished. Worryingly, he was in a lot of discomfort due to a cramp he suffered during his short stay at the crease.
A new hero is born
Given how deep Chennai bat and with Dhoni at the crease, the fans should have been breathing easy. But this was a different beast. Dhoni the finisher has come under the scanner in recent times. The skipper played a small part in the run-chase by milking out Kuldeep Yadav for a four and a six, but, once again, there was a lack of fluency in a game where one had to keep a tab on the required run-rate every few seconds.
It was a young Englishman, though, who was making his presence felt with some fearless hitting. Apart from Kevin Pietersen and to a lesser degree, Eoin Morgan, none of the players from England have managed to create any sort of impact in the years gone by. For the better part of a decade, they had looked down on IPL with much derision.
Billings is new-age, Twenty20 bread, and possesses a 360 degree scoring range. For all the old-fashioned muscle that was on display, the 26-year-old’s wicked paddle off Russell to the fine-leg boundary for a six was arguably the shot of the match – that bit artistry that would have made AB de Villiers proud.
Adventure, however, got the better of Billings just before his team got over the finish line after making a timely 23-ball 56. After being picked up by Chennai in the auctions, Billings had waxed lyrical about the prospect of picking up the tricks of the trade from Dhoni. The former Indian skipper was out for a 28-ball 25 during a knock that saw him largely wilt under pressure.
The grand finale
Despite scripting an extraordinary heist at the Wankhede Stadium during the season opener, it was Jadeja who was sent ahead of Bravo. With 17 needed from the final over, pressure had griped the stands. A few hardly had any fingernails left to chew on. There were prayers on offer and a handful of them, looked like even a breeze could trigger a breakdown.
Over the past decade, Chennai made last-over heroics an art that was the prized possession of only a select few. It was almost like a painful lesson in opposition bowler’s reputation being ripped to shreds.
Vinay Kumar, one of Indian domestic cricket’s pivotal figures in this millennium, was the latest victim. Bravo had set the tone early in the over. The stage was set for Jadeja to seal the deal. Like Dhoni and Raina before, the Saurashtra all-rounder too, is an adopted son of the city. Once mocked with the prefix ‘Sir’, Jadeja, in 2013 made a mockery of his detractors with a scarcely believable last-ball heist in 2013 against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
It was fairly straightforward here: A straight bat to usher his side into the new era. But the belief and spirit of old still lingers in the Chennai Super Kings camp, however challenging the circumstances.