MUMBAI, May 27: On Chennai Super Kings’ return to the IPL after a Supreme Court-imposed two-year ban, an emotional MS Dhoni had broken down while talking about what the franchise meant to him. One wouldn’t be surprised if he sheds a tear or two of joy if the ‘yellow brigade’ produce a champion show in the title clash against Sunrisers Hyderabad tonight.
Not many were willing to give CSK a chance after they were done with their auctions. “It’s dad’s army. Too many oldies,” was the common refrain. Their roster read: Imran Tahir: 38. Harbhajan Singh: 37. Shane Watson: 36. Dhoni: 36. Dwayne Bravo: 34. Faf du Plessis: 33. ‘They’d be slow on the field. They’ll run out of gas,’ you thought, when they entered the Wankhede to play the opening game of IPL 2018 against the Mumbai Indians.
When they were eight down, with the ninth man (Kedar Jadhav) having limped out due to a bad hamstring, needing 47 off three overs, CSK looked done and dusted. Then, magic, in the form of Bravo happened. The West Indian allrounder hadn’t scored a fifty in three years, but played the innings of his life and blasted six sixes in his 30-ball 68 to fashion an unbelievable win for the visitors.
Chennai Super Kings will aim at winning their third IPL title when they take on Sunrisers Hyderabad in the final on Sunday
Sunrisers are yet to beat CSK this season
Williamson has slammed eight fifties in 16 games this season, in which he’s scored 688 runs
In the next game, played at home, they found a hero in little-known Englishman Sam Billings, who blasted a 22-ball half-century to help them pull off a 200-plus chase against Delhi Daredevils. However, their matches were moved to Pune and they lost the home advantage. CSK, the most consistent team in IPL, lost little time in adapting to the new surface.
South Africa’s Lungi Ngidi, who took four for eight in a Test match-like spell in a low-scoring game against Kings XI Punjab at Pune, showed what he can do on a seamer-friendly surface, but most refreshing has been the emergence of Deepak Chahar. Moving the ball, either way, the Rajasthan pacer has left batsmen searching for answers right from the first game. Shardul Thakur can be expensive but has the heart of steel to bounce back.
Back in their favorite IPL team, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja look far more dangerous players than they did while playing for a different team for the last two years. So consistent has been Ambati Rayudu at the top that he’s suddenly come back into the Indian One-Day squad. The resurgence of Watson too has been a pleasant surprise. As has been their trend, in the last joust against SRH at the Wankhede in the first qualifier, they found another hero in du Plessis, who cracked an unbeaten 67 to help CSK pull of another jail-break.
The biggest gain for CSK, and for Indian cricket this IPL, though, has been the re-discovery of ‘vintage Dhoni.’ Wielding his willow like an axe, the former Indian captain has been at his good, old destructive best, sending the ball into the crowds and even out of the stadium at times, to leave his fans enchanted and the bowlers praying for divine help.
However, if there’s one team which can spoil the CSK dream run’s grand finale, it’s SRH, who themselves have done incredible well to get to this point considering that they lost their former skipper and their most prolific batsman, David Warner to the ball tampering scandal just before the IPL.
Stepping into Warner’s big shoes, Kane Williamson has led them brilliantly. By slamming eight fifties in 16 games, in which he’s scored 688 runs @52.92, the Kiwi skipper has showed that he’s a ‘top dog’ in T20 cricket too. In the absence of Warner, Shikhar Dhawan (four fifties) too has chipped in with responsibility.
The Sunrisers’ ultimate weapon is Rashid Khan. The teenager from Afghanistan single-handedly stopped the Kolkata Knight Riders’ march at the Eden Gardens on Friday night when he smashed four sixes in a 10-ball 34, before taking three for 19 to completely dominate qualifier 2.
The fact that batting legend Sachin Tendulkar now rates the 19-yearold legspinner as the best T20 spinner in the world tells you about the phenomenal impact Khan’s deadly googly has had in this IPL.
The reason that the Sunrisers’ bowling attack is the best in this IPL, though, isn’t Khan alone. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddharth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma and Shakib Al Hasan too have delivered brilliantly.