CSK and KXIP took the field for the last time in this IPL in Abu Dhabi. A very unique scenario was the backdrop for this match. If KXIP won, they would keep their playoff hopes alive, while CSK had an interesting record to play for. If CSK wins, this would be the first edition of the IPL where each team will finish with at least 6 wins, a statistical validation that this has been the most competitive edition of the IPL since its inception.
CSK won the toss and chose to play on a slow Abu Dhabi field. Punjab had decided to play the extra batsman and went in with only 5 bowlers including Neesham, a move which contradicts the general strategy of T20 cricket. The other thing I didn’t like about KXIP was that they decided to leave Maxwell out, after having relied on him for the last 13 matches. Confusing decision making like this occurs when team management isn’t sure what exactly is clicking for them and cuts and swaps players in hopes of finding the right combination.
KXIP welcomed Mayank back and the initial partnership of him and Rahul was reinstated at the top. Mayank continued from where he left off in his last match and the duo provided a blistering start for Punjab before Ngidi castled Agarwal with pace. Fresh off a brilliant 99 against RR, the Universe Boss came into the crease. Rahul and Gayle were supposed to lead KXIp’s charge in the middle overs, but unfortunately for the Orange-Cap tournament winner, he was fooled by a cut from Ngidi. Rahul was scheduled to pass the 700-race mark this season, but he fell agonizingly short by just 30 runs.
However, Rahul’s personal milestone aside, the most pertinent issue for Punjab was Rahul’s departure which started a procession. Nicholas Pooran and Chris Gayle departed in quick succession and Kings Xi was left with their fragile supporting lower-middle order. I love IPL because it throws up a lot of interesting stories. Deepak Hooda has been a utility player for his IPL team for almost 9 years. He has filled in as the Indian all-rounder for several franchises, but rarely has he played an inning worth remembering. He has contributed small cameos, but they’ve been cameos anyway.
Today it was the underdog’s turn to hog the spotlight. With all the illustrious hitters out of the game, Deepak Hooda began building his inning. First, he formed a vital 36 of 29 installment partnership with Mandeep, to resurrect entry KXIP. The singles and doubles were the main focus of the partnership, as his main goal was to prevent his team from losing out by a paltry score. Once Mandeep and Neesham departed in quick succession, Hooda played with intent. He grounded with Jordan on the other end and used his long hands to good effect. He punished anything remotely in the slot with stern disdain as he sliced, pummeled and pounded the likes of Shardul and Ngidi to reach the score of 62 from 30 deliveries, arguably the best entry of his IPL career.
Deepak Hooda’s vital strike ensured Punjab posted a competitive total of 154 on the board. The Chennai spinners made money for the first time in the tournament as Tahir and Jadeja gave nothing away to the batsmen. Both bowled 7 overs between them and conceded 41 and picked up 2 valuable wickets. In fact, the way Tahir portrayed Chris Gayle with his legpinner spoke volumes about this South African’s ability, even though he came on the wrong end of his 40th birthday.
CSK started the chase with ease. There is something about this boy, Ruturaj Gaekwad, that makes him look different from the rest. In the first 10 balls of the inning, he scored 1 run off the bat. To my pleasant surprise, he didn’t play any fancy shots to break the shackles. While Faf tried to get a kick out of the other end, Ruturaj stood his ground and believed in his abilities as a traditional player.
It’s clear from his later innings that the coverage line is his favorite shot. He’s equally adept at throwing and looking at deliveries, but the ease with which the fluid coverage unit plays is second to none. Shami was guilty of throwing the ball to him a couple of times off the stump, allowing Gaekwad to get into his rhythm with flowing coverage shots.
Faf used his feet and collected excellently to make sure the running speed didn’t slow down as his partner settled in at the other end. CSK ran to a lossless 57 in their powerplay overs with Faf making most of the points. The absence of a full-time bowler was already hurting Punjab, as Neesham proved no threat to batsmen with the dibbly wobbly middleweights of his.
After being beaten on the power play, the only way for KXIP to return to the competition was through Ravi Bishnoi. Unfortunately, the axis of the KXIP bowling lineup failed at a critical moment for his team. He sprayed his googlies all over the field and both Gaekwad and Faf feasted on it. Murugan has always played second fiddle to Bishnoi and Bishnoi’s out of form meant the opposition were not threatened by him too.
Ruturaj ran to a sublime 62 in 49 deliveries and Rayudu, despite being nervous, held his ground in the crease, to ensure CSK had no setbacks in the chase. It was a clinical performance for CSK as they galloped towards goal with 7 balls to spare. Ironically, the injection of youngsters has shown CSK’s spark, which has been lacking for so long this season. They bid farewell with a win, failing to reach the playoffs for the first time in IPL history. However, Dhoni may have created a starter out of Ruturaj Gaekwad, just like he did with Rohit Sharma in 2013.