Chennai Super Kings’ clash with Kolkata Knight Riders at the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday was a one-sided affair till about two-thirds of the way in. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co were asked to bat first and they dominated for a long period. But such was the drama in KKR’s fightback in the final third of the match that we were left with a classic Indian Premier League thriller.

Chennai came into the contest full of confidence having won their previous two games at the same venue. And they did well to complete a hat-trick and beat KKR by 18 runs to go top of the table, but not before getting a mighty scare just when most thought the match was done and dusted.

Having posted a formidable total of 220/3, the Super Kings seemed to have killed the contest when they had KKR tottering at 31/5 in 5.2 overs. However, what happened from there on turned what looked like a straightforward CSK victory into perhaps the match of the tournament so far.

The outcome of the game was determined by three key phases: CSK’s massive first-wicket partnership, their utter domination with the new ball, and KKR’s unexpected belligerence with the bat at the end.

Here’s a closer look at these three phases:

Big opening

Faf du Plessis and Ruturaj Gaikwad walked out to the crease on Wednesday in contrasting form. While du Plessis had hit his stride after a duck in the opener and got scores of 36* and 33 under his belt, Gaikwad was low on confidence having managed just 20 runs in total in the first three games.

But against KKR, the two right-handers were in perfect sync and set the game up for their team by putting Eoin Morgan’s bowling attack to the sword.

The big positive for CSK, of course, was Gaikwad coming to form. After scoring heavily in domestic cricket, he proved his worth by hitting a hat-trick of half-centuries late in IPL 2020. This season, though, he was struggling for timing and looked set to get the axe.

However, Chennai kept the faith in him and Gaikwad delivered with a fantastic knock against Kolkata. The 24-year-old picked up his first boundary off the sixth ball he faced with a superb drive through cover against Pat Cummins. And that shot gave him the confidence to keep going. He hit a number of on-the-rise drives through cover and was lethal with the pull shot as well. His 42-ball 64 had six fours and four sixes and makes Chennai’s batting order look much more potent going forward.

Gaikwad found the perfect partner in du Plessis. The South African was Chennai’s top run-scorer last season and is batting with immense confidence at the moment. He added 115 runs for the first wicket with Gaikwad before digging deeper and remaining not-out on a classy 95 off 60.

Du Plessis’ nine fours and four sixes were spread all around the park and he did well to not let his strike-rate drop even when Moeen Ali and Dhoni attacked from the other end. Not only was he the ideal opener for CSK, he also played the finisher’s role to perfection. The 36-year-old hit Cummins for two sixes in the final over, with the second of those being out of the top drawer – a nonchalant, back-foot drive over cover.

Power play

Chennai would have been confident of their chances at the halfway stage but despite having a huge total on the board, their most dominant phase was yet to come.

Deepak Chahar was among the wickets for Chennai Super Kings in the last three seasons but the first four matches this year have already seen him deliver his best figures for the three-time IPL champions. After bagging a match-winning 4/13 against Punjab Kings, the right-arm swing bowler delivered a devastating spell of 4/29 against KKR.

Dhoni has been consistently using all four of Chahar’s overs up front and the move has been working remarkably well so far. On Wednesday, the 28-year-old removed Shubman Gill in his first over, Nitish Rana in his second, and Eoin Morgan and Sunil Narine in the over after that.

It was a sensational spell of pace bowling that put Kolkata down in the dumps. Chahar relied on his strengths – accuracy and subtle movement – to induce one false shot after another and once Lungi Ngidi removed Rahul Tripathi in the final over of the powerplay, it seemed the result of the match was a mere formality.

But from there on started KKR’s fightback that took this match from ordinary to one for the ages.

Attack only

Kolkata Knight Riders faced 83 balls after Tripathi perished and thanks to Dinesh Karthik, Andre Russell and Cummins, they hit 25 boundaries – 11 fours and 14 sixes – off those deliveries to add 171 runs.

Once they lost half their side, the two-time champions went on the offensive immediately and before anyone knew it, there were plenty of concerned faces in the CSK camp. And while Karthik’s 24-ball 40 was valuable, the real onslaught came from Russell and Cummins whose flurry of sixes drove KKR forward.

Russell made his intentions clear right from the get-go. Ngidi had just dismissed Tripathi and Russell went 4, 4, 0, 6 in the first four balls he faced. But he made his big move in the 10th over of the innings when Shardul Thakur came into the attack, picking up a four and three sixes to trigger a huge shift in momentum.

It took a moment of sheer brilliance from Sam Curran to knock back Russell’s leg stump, as the West Indies all-rounder decided to shoulder his arms thinking it’ll be a wide down leg.

But even as Russell walked back for a 22-ball 54 (three fours and six sixes), there was one final twist left in the tale.

Cummins only had three runs to his name after the first seven balls he faced. His next 27 deliveries, though, fetched a staggering 63 runs with four fours and six sixes. The Australian all-rounder single-handedly kept KKR in the game by going on a boundary-hitting spree.

The 16th over of the innings, bowled by Curran, saw Cummins hit four sixes and a four. The 27-year-old, who was the most expensive purchase in last year’s IPL, took his front leg out of the way and put on an exhibition of clean striking. That one over left KKR needing 45 runs to get from 18 balls with everyone in the stadium at the edge of their seats.

Sadly for KKR, though, Chennai kept picking wickets from the other end and the match had a rather anti-climactic finish with Prasidh Krishna’s run-out in the last over. Kolkata had come to within touching distance of the most unlikely win, but it was Chennai who got to savour a victory that will be remembered for a long, long time.