The return of Chennai Super Kings after a two-year suspension was the biggest talking point of the Indian Premier League 2018. True to their reputation, they gave a glimpse of what the fans had missed when Dwayne Bravo lit up the inaugural night by pulling off that chase against Mumbai Indians.
MS Dhoni finding his hitting form back, Ambati Rayudu reinventing himself, the young Indian seamers prospering, Lungi Ngidi attaining cult status and Faf du Plessis playing that innings to win the first Qualifier. Not to forget the management arranging for their loyal fans to travel by train to Pune after they were forced to shift their base from Chennai. The emotional journey culminated in them becoming only the second franchise, after Mumbai Indians, to lift the IPL trophy for a third time.
In a team filled with veterans, it was only fitting that Shane Watson, batting with a calf niggle, stole the thunder with his second century of the season. His unbeaten 117 off 57 balls, studded with 11 fours and eight sixes, helped Chennai chase down 179 against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Sunday (May 27).
Suresh Raina ably supported Watson during a second-wicket stand of 117. By the time Raina fell for 32 in the 14th over, Chennai were cruising. Watson and Rayudu completed the formalities of an eight-wicket win with an unbroken 48-run stand.
After Kane Williamson (47) and Yusuf Pathan (45 not out off 25 balls) had taken Hyderabad to 178 for 6, Watson played out a maiden from Bhuvneshwar Kumar to start Chennai’s chase. It proved to be the calm before the storm.
In fact, Watson took 11 deliveries to get off the mark and the pressure led to du Plessis’s dismissal. Chennai shifted gears in the seventh over when Watson and Raina took 15 off Siddarth Kaul.
With dew becoming a major factor, Hyderabad needed something really special to put the brakes on Chennai’s scoring rate. It did not help that Williamson had exhausted three overs of Bhuvneshwar in the Power Play, and as expected, the batsmen played out Rashid Khan without taking any risk.
After that, it was about targeting the right bowlers, and with the ball coming on to the bat at a good pace, things became easier. Hyderabad hardly had a chance as Watson and Raina hit eight fours and an equal number of sixes during their 57-ball association.
It was brutal hitting at its best, and what made Watson’s performance even more remarkable was that he overcame the pain of his injury and backed himself to hit the big shots. The 13th over from Sandeep Sharma, which went for 27 runs including a hat-trick of sixes from Watson’s bat, completely killed the game.
Raina was caught behind in the next over, but by then the focus had shifted towards Watson’s impending century. It came off the third ball off the 17th over, his fourth in an IPL career that started with a title with Rajasthan Royals in 2008.
As much as it was a Watson show, the bowlers laid the base for Chennai’s victory. Like in Qualifier 1 at the same venue a few days earlier, they came out with a clear plan of not giving the Hyderabad batsmen any scope to free their arms. This time, however, the second-wicket pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Williamson bided their time while adding 51 runs.
Williamson pulled a short ball from Deepak Chahar for six and followed it up with a four when the bowler failed to correct his length. In the next over from Shardul Thakur, Dhawan swung his bat for a six over long-on as Hyderabad finished the Power Play on 42 for 1.
Dhoni brought Bravo on in the eighth over, and he started well but his last two deliveries – both slower ones – went wrong and Williamson capitalised with a four and a six. Ravindra Jadeja provided the breakthrough in the next over, with his third ball, when Dhawan missed the line while playing a slog-sweep and was bowled.
Williamson and Shakib Al Hasan kept up the tempo during their 37-run stand before Karn Sharma, playing in place of Harbhajan Singh, struck with the first ball of the 13th over. Seeing Williamson step out, the leggie bowled a widish ball and Dhoni completed an easy stumping. Shakib then added 32 with Pathan before hitting a low full toss from Bravo straight to Raina at cover.
At 133 for 4 in 15.5 overs, Hyderabad needed some spark. Even though Pathan hit some good shots, Chennai pulled things back by conceding just 18 runs in the last two overs.
It would be a memorable night for the men in yellow.