At Chepauk on Tuesday, Chennai Super Kings offered us an all too familiar trip down memory lane. Sent into bat, CSK notched up a competitive total of 172/7 before strangling the Gujarat Titans batters with spin to clinch a 15-run victory in IPL’s Qualifier 1.
The tried-and-tested template has ensured CSK’s entry to the IPL final in Ahmedabad on Sunday, their tenth in 14 seasons (they were suspended in 2016 and 2017). Holders Gujarat Titans will now await the winner of the Eliminator between LSG and MI in Qualifier 2 on Friday, though Qualifier 2 will be played on their turf in Ahmedabad.
CSK’s effort with the bat was helmed by opener Ruturaj Gaikwad’s 44-ball 60. On a surface that was holding up and lending appreciable turn, Gaikwad rose above the conditions for a defining contribution.
In hindsight, GT skipper Hardik Pandya’s decision to bowl worked in CSK’s favour. Dew seemed to be a factor in the decision-making – even MS Dhoni said he would have fielded first – but CSK spinners had no trouble in gripping the ball in the second innings. Maheesh Theekshana (4-0-28-2) and Ravindra Jadeja (4-0-18-2) weaved a web, leaving GT on 102/6 by the time their spells were done. An entertaining 16-ball 30 by Rashid Khan only narrowed the margin of CSK’s victory.
That Titans were going to find the chase difficult became clear when they were reduced to 41/2 in the Powerplay. The first signs came in the sixth over when Theekshana got Pandya caught at point. More evidence of the CSK spinners being in play came in Jadeja’s opening over. Shubman Gill shaped to pull a short ball by the left-arm spinner, only to miss it owing to vicious turn.
Jadeja immediately knew he was in business. His first wicket was that of Dasun Shanaka, a poorly executed reverse sweep travelling to Theekshana at short third man. David Miller, Gill and Rahul Tewatia fell in the space of 10 deliveries. That Gill struggled (42 – 38b) despite back-to-back hundreds before Tuesday was revealing of the challenge for their batters.
When CSK batted, they were untroubled in the opening six overs, motoring to 49/0 with Gaikwad hogging the strike early on. It shouldn’t have been that way. Seamer Darshan Nalkande, in his first game of the season, had Gaikwad caught at midwicket in the second over of the innings. The bowler though had overstepped, resulting in a free hit that Gaikwad dispatched for six over mid-on.
There was more agony for Nalkande. Immediately after the six, Gaikwad brought out a check drive that sped through cover for four. When Mohammed Shami bowled a similar length in the next over, Gaikwad didn’t spare him either, beating the mid-off fielder to his left for another boundary.
Devon Conway couldn’t get the ball away with the same ease. The left-hander’s first boundary came off the last ball of the fourth over courtesy a punch through point, spoiling what had otherwise been a decent over by Nalkande.
Gaikwad was quick to latch onto scoring opportunities against the wrist spin duo of Rashid and Noor Ahmad too. Against Rashid, he cleared his front leg and drove aerially to fetch four before pulling a short ball by Noor through the vacant deep square leg region for the same result.
A cut through point for four against Mohit Sharma helped Gaikwad reach his half-century off 36 balls. A streaky inside-edge for four followed in the same over, but Sharma exacted revenge in the 11th over to end an 87-run opening stand. One brought two as Shivam Dube – sent in at No. 3 to capitalise on the solid beginning – was dismissed in the very next over. Usually menacing against spin, Dube was a tad too hasty in looking for the big hit against Noor, done in off just his third ball by a googly that crashed into the stumps.
It slightly slowed down CSK’s tempo, only 17 runs coming off 15 balls after Dube’s wicket. But Nalkande was targeted again. Pandya intended to complete the rookie’s quota before the final surge, but CSK weren’t going to let go. Conway flashed at a wide delivery to earn four runs while Ajinkya Rahane’s wristy flick cleared the square leg boundary for six. Though Nalkande dismissed Rahane off the next ball, Ambati Rayudu ended the 18-run over by charging down the track and hitting a four through extra cover. Conway (40 – 34b) fell off the first ball of the next over, but the push they were after came from Rayudu, Jadeja and Moeen Ali. The last five overs yielded 47 runs, which eventually proved beyond GT’s reach.