After Chennai Super Kings’s last defeat – their fifth in seven games this Indian Premier League season – skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni offered an interesting analogy to sum up his team’s worries. He said there were too many holes in the CSK ship and if he tried to plug one, water was flowing from another.
“We need to get our act together. Everything needs to work in the same game to get a result,” said Dhoni.
While champion teams can always be counted on to turn the tide eventually, Dhoni himself must have been surprised by how quickly his men responded to his words.
Chennai’s 20-run win against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Tuesday came on the back of a clinical, all-round effort, with contributions from almost every player in the team. Dhoni wanted all departments to fire in unison, and that’s exactly what he got at the Dubai International Stadium.
Things started to fall in place for CSK from the get-go. They won the toss and for the first time this season, batted first. N Jagadeesan made way for Piyush Chawla as CSK packed their side with bowlers. Dhoni’s decision at the toss was fraught with risk, considering Hyderabad’s quality bowling attack, but it was a brave and necessary one.
The three-time champions then pulled-off a surprise by sending Sam Curran as opener. The English all-rounder has shown over the years how well he can strike the ball and CSK decided his skills had to be utilised more effectively. And despite Faf du Plessis perishing for a first-ball duck, Curran made an instant impact at the top of the order with a 21-ball 31.
Then came the most crucial partnership of the match, between Shane Watson and Ambati Rayudu. The right-handers, who played match-winning knocks in the two CSK victories earlier in the season, paced themselves wonderfully and matched each other shot for shot. They took on the in-form Rashid Khan which proved to be a turning point in the match.
After quickfire cameos from Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, CSK finished with a par total of 167. Sunrisers skipper David Warner said after the game that he thought the target was gettable. But with seven bowling options and a sluggish pitch, the Super Kings knew they had the edge at the halfway stage.
Curran got the big wicket of Warner early, while Deepak Chahar bowled all his overs first up and conceded just 28 runs. It was then time for CSK to deliver a classic chokehold in the middle overs. Jadeja, who has had a quiet tournament with the ball, showed how effective he can be when there’s turn on offer by cleaning up the dangerous Jonny Bairstow. Karn Sharma played his part as well by picking up two important wickets.
The SRH chase was shouldered by Kane Williamson, who scored a classy 57 off 39, but once Sharma got rid of him in the 18th over, it was CSK’s game to lose. With 27 needed off the last two overs, Shardul Thakur gave away just five runs in the 19th. And Dwayne Bravo sealed the deal by conceding just one run in the last over.
Dhoni was a satisfied captain at the end. His sinking ship had found a way to keep their campaign afloat.
“Today, I felt we did a very good job even in the batting. There was some purpose and the batsmen assessed the situation very well. The fast bowlers did the job, the spinners came into play and it was one game that was as close to being perfect,” he said.
“We need to think more about the process, the points table will take care of itself. We need to still see where the errors were made in this game and what is important is to not brush anything under the carpet just because we won.”
CSK, of course, remain a long way from making it to the playoffs. But they’ve made an impressive start to the second half of the league stage, and the signs look promising. The pitches at the three venues are getting slower with each game and that’s a big plus for the men in yellow.
The auctions for this season happened much before it was decided that the tournament will be shifted out of India. Chennai Super Kings, who have been immensely successful over the years at Chepauk, have the personnel to take advantage of home-like conditions in the UAE. And fortunately for them, their players are starting to show intent at just the right time.