On Sunday night, Chennai Super Kings did the same things what they have been doing repeatedly over the years. Keeping the faith intact in proven match winners and following the process.
Defeat by a margin of 10 wickets must have shocked the Kings XI Punjab whose campaign in this IPL has taken a severe beating after four losses.
However, much of the blame should go to captain and opener KL Rahul for his failure to accelerate. Rahul may have scored most runs in this tournament so far but his template (apparently borrowed from Rohit Sharma’s ODI style where initial caution is compensated by late assault) of restrained aggression is doing more harm than good to his team.
It may look harsh to criticise the highest scorer from Punjab but strike rate of 121 in a 52-ball stay at the crease doesn’t win too many matches on a flat track.
“It’s hard being on the losing side for so many games on the trot. We need to come back harder and better. There's no rocket science where we are going wrong, it's the execution,” said a visibly dejected Rahul after the loss.
An unlikely show-stopper
When KXIP were expected to go berserk in the death overs, Dhoni’s innovative field placement and Shardul Thakur’s impeccable execution flummoxed Nicholas Pooran and Rahul.
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CSK conceded just 48 runs in the last five overs and also took two wickets and that perhaps was the turning point of the match. Thakur’s double blows (dangerous looking Pooran and well-set Rahul in two consecutive deliveries in his third over (18th of the innings) brought the belief back in Chennai camp which meant CSK got a target of 179. Deepak Chahar’s (17 runs in 3 overs) and Ravindra Jadeja (30 runs in 4 overs) also played their part without looking outstanding.
The Watson-du Plessis show
Faf du Plessis was just one bright spot in an otherwise struggling batting unit till now for CSK. However, against KXIP, the South African was happy to play the role of a second fiddle as Australian Shane Watson was in his elements. Both the openers faced the same number of balls (53) and almost had the identical score of 83 and 87 unbeaten but the Australian was chosen the Man of the Match even though he scored less because of his impact in the game. “With so much experience and success the franchise’s had, they believe in the players. Never any panic stations with CSK. Just had to do a few things better,” said Watson during the post-match presentation chat with the host broadcaster.
A win can change so many things
The second-highest opening stand while chasing in IPL also ensured that Chennai jumped two places more from the 8th they were at the beginning of the match. In fact KKR and RR have got the same number of points in the table with a better net run rate. “Watson was looking good in the nets. But what you want is to replicate that. It was just a matter of time that he gets going. Faf is like a sheet anchor for us. He can always confuse the bowlers with shots like the lap shot. They complement each other well. I felt Watto and Faf backed themselves to play the shots they're known for. It was very good to watch them out there,” said Dhoni after the match.
Typical CSK strategy
After losing three matches in a row, Dhoni resisted the temptation of changing the playing XI despite coming under fire from fans and experts.
Yet, the result clearly shows what Dhoni and CSK as a team do, it is tough to replicate by others. “Credit to MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming for sticking with the side. It is a Chennai way to stick with the players more than other teams might even when others feel like making changes. It comes with experience and credit to the management for sticking with the players,” summed up Faf du Plessis beautifully after the match.
(Vimal Kumar is a senior sports journalist who has covered multiple cricket world cups and Rio Olympics in the last two decades. Vimal is also the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.)Follow Moneycontrol’s full coverage of IPL 2020 here