RANCHI - In two of Chennai Super Kings' last three games, they had been left with 11 to get from the last over with MS Dhoni at the crease. Today, against Rajasthan Royals, it came down to 12 from the last over. Dhoni was there, of course, batting on 15. In situations like that, all he needs is one ball in his slot.
It came off the second ball of the over, the first time he was on strike, when James Faulkner angled one across him but pitched it a touch too full. Down came that big bat-swing, and up went the ball, soaring for a flat six over wide long-on. A wide full-toss brought him two runs to deep cover the next ball, and with three needed off three, a push to the same fielder became the winning hit when Faulkner failed to collect Kevon Cooper's throw and gave away an overthrow.
It had all looked very different when Rajasthan Royals, having chosen to bat, had moved to 84 for 1 after 10 overs. Shane Watson was on the cusp of a half-century, and with him was Ajinkya Rahane. Steven Smith and James Faulkner, who had turned certain defeat to exhilarating victory against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the space of four crazy overs, were waiting their turn in the dugout.
But Super Kings pulled things back, with Mohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja proving particularly hard to hit on a slow, grippy surface, and Royals lost seven wickets and scored only 64 in their last 10 overs.
Super Kings looked to have made things more difficult for themselves when Dhoni sent in R Ashwin at No. 5 ahead of himself, but Dhoni always leaves it till the end.
Royals sprung a surprise right at the start, opening with Ankit Sharma and Shane Watson instead of Karun Nair and Ajinkya Rahane, who had put on 54 in their previous match. The new combination laid a solid foundation, starting sedately before the left-handed Ankit greeted R Ashwin by hitting him for two fours and a six in his first over. Ankit put on 60 with Watson before he holed out to long-on while trying to slog Ashwin against the turn.
Apart from one big over against IPL debutant Vijay Shankar, in which he smashed the medium-pacer for a four and two sixes, Watson had also been kept fairly quiet. Royals' 10-over score, therefore, didn't present the full picture of what had gone before. There had been some help for the spinners, and the seamers had been hard to get away when they changed their pace.
It wasn't that much of a surprise, then, that Royals didn't really take off in the last 10 overs. Mohit used his back-of-the-hand slower ball cleverly to pick up three wickets - including those of Watson and Smith, both bowled - and Ravindra Jadeja picked up two with his round-arm darts from left-arm around.
Even so, the extent of Royals' slow-down was startling, and they contributed to it with their endless experimentation - they waited until the end of the 15th over to send in Smith, and until the 18th to send in Faulkner.
Both failed to get going, as had Rahane and Nair before them, displaced from the opening slots.
It left Super Kings 149 to get. Dwayne Smith got them going with his cleanly struck hits down the ground, but they lost wickets at the other end, with Brendon McCullum and Suresh Raina both unlucky to see their sweeps off Ankit going straight to fielders in the circle. In Pravin Tambe, Kevon Cooper and Rajat Bhatia, Royals possessed three bowlers designed for this sort of pitch, and their cutters and leg-rollers stalled Super Kings' progress, particularly after Smith's dismissal in the 10th over. Du Plessis and Ashwin cobbled together 29 in 29 balls, leaving Super Kings needing 44 from 30 when Dhoni walked in. It was a tricky equation, considering the conditions, but it could have been even trickier had Royals not fallen away so spectacularly in the second half of their innings.
Ankit Sharma c Smith b Ashwin 30
S Watson b Sharma 51
A Rahane run out 4
K Nair b Badree 8
S Binny c du Plessis b Jadeja 22
S Smith b Sharma 9
J Faulkner b Jadeja 1
D Yagnik not out 4
R Bhatia c Smith b Sharma 7
K Cooper not out 0
EXTRAS: (b1, lb3, w8) 12
TOTAL: (8 wkts; 20 overs) 148
FOW: 1-60, 2-86, 3-99, 4-114, 5-133, 6-136, 7-137, 8-147
BOWLING: S Badree 4-0-19-1, I Pandey 3-0-18-0, M Sharma 4-0-31-3, R Ashwin 4-0-39-1, R Jadeja 4-0-18-2, V Shankar 1-0-19-0
D Smith c Yagnik b Cooper 44
B McCullum c Nair b Ankit 6
S Raina c Bhatia b Ankit 2
F du Plessis b Faulkner 38
R Ashwin b Bhatia 14
MS Dhoni not out 26
R Jadeja not out 11
EXTRAS: (lb3, w5) 8
TOTAL: (5 wkts; 19.4 overs) 149
FOW: 1-20, 2-41, 3-76, 4-105, 5-121
BOWLING: Ankit Sharma 4-0-20-2, J Faulkner 3.4-0-37-1, P Tambe 4-0-34-0, K Cooper 4-0-25-1, R Bhatia 4-0-30-1
MAN OF MATCH: R Jadeja
UMPIRES: B Oxenford (Aus), C Shamshuddin
TV UMPIRE: R Deshpande
MATCH REFEREE: J Srinath