Super Kings elect to bowl, bring back Harbhajan and Tahir
Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni elected to bowl against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, on a pitch he said “looks good” but feels damp when you “rub your fingers” on it – parts of Bengaluru dealt with showers in the lead up to the game. Despite that and the overcast overhead conditions and the prospect of dew later on, both teams stacked up their spin departments. Super Kings brought in veterans Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir to replace Karn Sharma and Faf du Plessis, respectively. Royal Challengers also chose to go with three frontline spinners, leaving opening batsman Manan Vohra out to accommodate left-arm spinner Pawan Negi. To adjust for the loss in batting power, they replaced England’s Chris Woakes with New Zealand allrounder Colin de Grandhomme for his first game of the season.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Virat Kohli (capt), 3 AB de Villiers, 4 Mandeep Singh, 5 Corey Anderson 6 Colin de Grandhomme, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Pawan Negi, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Ambati Rayudu, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 5 Sam Billings, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Deepak Chahar, 10 Imran Tahir, 11 Shardul Thakur.
Chennai Super Kings 207 for 5 (Rayudu 82, MS Dhoni 70*) beat Royal Challengers Bangalore 205 for 8 (De Villiers 68, De Kock 53, Bravo 2-33) by five wickets. Chennai Super Kings picked up their fifth victory through thunderous performances from two heroes – Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni – in an explosive performance where they made nearly half the target of 206 with the 17 balls that flew over the ropes at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. On an evening where Super Kings were good with the ball, they still found themselves chasing 200 plus. The perfect switch came after they slipped to 74 for 4 in nine overs; the win was eventually completed with two balls to spare and took them to the top of the table. The sub-plot, once more, was that Royal Challengers didn’t have the bowling to defend the runs their batsmen scored. They had seven bowling options on the night and their two best bowlers – Yuzvendra Chahal and Umesh Yadav – bowled out their overs for a combined 3 for 49. The two other spinners were given a combined four overs, the better bowler of their two allrounders – Colin de Grandhomme – didn’t have a bowl, and, yet again, a glaring lack of a death-overs plan resulted in an embarrassing collapse.
By the time Super Kings had got into the third over after electing to bowl, Virat Kohli had figured out his method against the opening bowlers: short strides against Deepak Chahar’s swing and a few steps down at Shardul Thakur. He also exchanged notes with Quinton de Kock who aggressively kept gesturing how Thakur’s knuckle ball was coming out. Both teams had gone with three spinners on a damp evening, a move that seemed mysterious when de Kock stepped out and launched Harbhajan Singh over long-on from outside off. Thakur managed to pull it back momentarily with a quite remarkable feat – a wicket maiden off a T20 over faced by Kohli and de Villiers – but the bleeding wouldn’t stop. De Kock and de Villiers, together, put up 103 for the second wicket from there in under nine overs, starting with a 16-run punishment off three balls that took Harbhajan out for the rest of the innings. When the ball lost its shine, there did appear to be grip from the surface. But the South African duo weren’t averse to using their feet to move laterally in the crease or down the pitch to open up the field. With their abilities to clear the ground in tow, that proved vital, because the spinners were forced into bowling faster than they should have been.
The next breakthrough, the wicket of de Kock in the 14th, also came in a maiden over. It might even have been a double-wicket maiden had Super Kings reviewed an lbw decision where Bravo got Corey Anderson on the back leg off a full toss. It didn’t do too much damage though as Imran Tahir produced two: De Villiers and Anderson, off consecutive deliveries. Suddenly, it was turning big. Super Kings could’ve had Mandeep Singh, but Dhoni failed to anticipate a spitting turner from Ravindra Jadeja and couldn’t get his hand on a stumping opportunity. What followed was a six over midwicket and a reverse-swept four to get Mandeep going. A missed opportunity and Royal Challengers looked like they would capitalise. But another collapse came. Royal Challengers lost seven wickets in the last five overs and played out two maiden overs in the innings. They didn’t have the bowling to afford such mishaps.
Royal Challengers had made the perfect start with the ball. Shane Watson, Suresh Raina and Sam Billings, who have all made winning contributions this season, were out inside seven overs and the wicket was allowing big turn. Super Kings seemed to have given them some help too, when they sent Jadeja ahead of Dhoni at No. 5. That move brought a 15-run fourth-wicket stand that consumed 16 balls. Umesh Yadav had bowled out his overs in a testing opening spell, though, and Yuzvendra Chahal would be done in the 13th. The brutal effect of that reality in simple, numerical terms: Super Kings hit 12 sixes 64 balls after Dhoni walked in. Rayudu didn’t exactly fly under the radar. Like he had against Sunrisers in Super Kings’ previous match, he dealt mainly in flat-batted shots. He was severe on Hyderabad Ranji team-mate Mohammed Siraj, and did not allow Washington Sundar a chance to settle.
At the other end, Dhoni smashed the confidence out of Pawan Negi. Shortly after coming in to bat, he swatted the spinner over midwicket, and upon his return in the 14th, a visibly nervous Negi fired full ones flat into Dhoni’s arc. Two of Royal Challengers’ spinners had been neutralized on a spin-friendly surface. That was the beginning of an inevitable death-overs meltdown. With 70 required off 28 balls, Umesh put down a simple chance at extra cover that would have ended Rayudu’s innings. It was perhaps the only time Anderson’s plan of sliding cross-seam length balls across came close to working. By the end of that over, he was truly found out – Rayudu hit balls from the same line outside off over extra cover and then over midwicket.
Colin de Grandhomme, brought into the XI on the night, did not feature in Kohli’s bowling plans. This meant that Royal Challengers would bowl their last six overs with two bowlers: a strategy scarcely seen in ODI cricket that shouldn’t have a place in T20 cricket. But it did have a place. And it summed why Royal Challengers’ economy in the death-overs this season – 13.29 – is the worst by any team in any edition of the IPL. Only the 2015 Royals – a team that did not have both a bowling analytics coach and a bowling coach, apart from an ex-bowler head coach – have done worse with 11.60.