Though the IPL commentators would have you believe that low-scoring matches are the most thrilling to watch, 106 falls significantly below that scale. And that’s the total Punjab Kings managed to limp to after being destroyed in the powerplay.
In his 200th IPL match for CSK, skipper MS Dhoni called to bowl first after winning the toss. He assessed the pitch as slightly tacky with a bit more grass, predicting that the first few overs would be crucial. And his words proved to be premonitory as the fate of the match was decided in the first 7 overs that followed. Dhoni’s faith in his bowlers was rewarded handsomely with Deepak Chahar dismissing Mayank Agarwal in just the 3rd ball of the innings. The ball nipped away from the middle stump to take off the bails on the off stump, sending Agarwal walking for a duck. This dismissal marked the second time the opener has failed to make an impact in the Punjab batting line-up.
But the PBKS fans weren’t too worried because the ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle walked out on the field to join their in-form captain who had scored 91 in their previous match. Chahar was robbed of the wicket of Gayle, the ball being dropped off Ruturaj Gaikwad after grazing his fingers. In his second over, Chahar was clobbered for two 4s by Gayle but the very next ball saw the skipper K L Rahul being run-out by a spectacular show of fielding by Ravindra Jadeja. There was a slight stumble in Rahul’s running which cost him the extra second it took for the veteran CSK fielder to aim at the single side-stump and still manage to hit it perfectly.
All the magic seemed to happen in Chahar’s overs, his third over-delivering two quick wickets in succession. The first was the wicket of Gayle, which was rightfully his, the big man being deceived by Chahar’s wily knuckleball. In another display of his high caliber as a fielder, Jadeja plucked the catch out of the air with the swiftness of a panther, unmatched by any other. Two balls later, Nicholas Pooran swung hard at the short ball, almost cherry-picking Shardul Thakur to take his catch. And suddenly, PBKS found themselves staring at a score of 19-4, their top order dismissed for scores of 5 (Rahul), 10 (Gayle), and 0 (Pooran). Notably, this was Pooran’s second duck in as many innings, a poor record to start the season with.
Piggybacking off of Chahar’s glorious night with the ball, Dhoni decided to bowl him out in just the 7th over. And his gamble played off as Chahar picked up a fourth of the night, sending Deepak Hooda back. The man who had played a match-winning innings against RR failed to make a dent in the total, walking off with a mere 10 runs. On the flip side, Chahar was celebrating his personal best figures of 4-13, finishing off with a maiden wicket over. His spell, boasting an impressive 18 dots, is the best performance by a seamer in the Wankhede stadium.
Needless to say, CSK completely dominated the powerplay, annihilating PBKS’ intimidating top order effortlessly. Punjab’s newest addition, Shahrukh Khan, was undoubtedly the star player of their unit, anchoring the sinking innings with his patient 47 off 36 balls. His stint, featuring four boundaries and two 6s, was well-timed in the face of rapidly falling wickets. Without Khan’s contribution, even hitting a hundred runs seemed like a mammoth task for PBKS, who were striking at under 5 runs an over.
Punjab knew that it was a losing match from the moment their top order crumbled dismally. And it came as a surprise to no one that CSK cruised to a victory, surpassing Punjab’s posted total of 106 with utter ease. The target was at least 50 runs short of a par total on that wicket, which was acknowledged by Rahul later as well. Punjab’s bowlers searched desperately for any sort of breakthrough but to no avail. Gaikwad’s struggle to find his groove was evident before he was dismissed for a paltry 5 runs off 16 balls. But CSK remained unfazed as the target was well within control and then some.
Moeen Ali, who has bumped up the batting order, replaced the trusty Suresh Raina at number 3. And Ali did not waste this opportunity, speeding to 46 runs in just 31 balls, striking at close to 150. His partnership with Faf du Plessis yielded 66 runs, putting CSK well on the way to finishing their run chase early. Unfortunately, he fell before making it to his half-century, flat-batting M Ashwin to Khan on midwicket.
In some last-minute excitement, Mohammad Shami managed to dismiss both CSK veterans Raina and Ambati Rayudu in consecutive balls. While Raina hit 8 off 9 deliveries, Rayudu departed for a golden duck. These two wickets were completely unnecessary as CSK did not need reckless big-hitting when their target was a stone’s throw away. But the wickets did no damage, CSK clinching the win and their first two points of the tournament.
After a dreadful batting performance that’s a far cry from their season-opening spectacle, K L Rahul and the rest of PBKS have much to discuss in the post-match breakdown. The losing captain reflects on their performance saying, “It’s important that we learn from our mistakes and that’s the sort of team we want to be. We still want to go out there and play fearless cricket. It’s T20 cricket, more often than not you’ll score big runs but there’ll be one or two games in a season where you lose wickets like this. It’s important that we take it on the chin and move forward and get better next game.”