Qualifier 1 got underway in Mumbai, far away from the support bases of either of the teams. There had been more than the initial apprehension about the change in the playoffs format when it was announced. It was time to put it to test in a stadium that has been written into Indian folklore circa India’s 2011 World Cup final win.
Chennai won the toss and decided to field first. Of late Dhoni sticks to chasing down totals in knockout games rather than setting them and he was not going to do anything different. The CSK team had been saying before the game that it was important for them to get Gayle out cheaply which they managed to do. The stage was set for India’s latest batting mainstay, Virat Kohli and a youngster regarded by many as captaincy material, Mayank Agarwal. The pair stitched a decent partnership before Mayank perished trying to dispatch a ball by Bravo to the stands.
Next to the crease was AB de Villiers who went just as quickly without making a significant contribution again. The next batsman was Luke Pomersbach or Mr Muscles. He proceeded to tear apart Bravol hitting him for a couple of boundaries and a six. Dhoni tried to contain the runflow by throwing in Bollinger in the attack who instantly produced the wicket of Pomersbach.
All this while at the other end Kohli was more than happy to continue playing the role of an accumulator. However suddenly out of nowhere Kohli just exploded in the 19th over. With some lusty hitting Kohli accompanied by Saurabh Tiwary led RCB to a more than respectable total of 175.
CSK on the other hand started badly losing Hussey in the first over itself. With runs hard to come by, they were unlucky to have Vijay given out to a delivery that had pitched just outside the leg stump. RCB tightened the screws and remarkably kept the scoring in the powerplay to just 25. Chennai had two experienced men at the crease who took their time getting in with both Badrinath and Raina happy to take the singles and block out the good balls. They did not lose their cool even when at times an over yielded just a run while the asking rate was over 11.
Badrinath perished trying to increase the scoring rate but his departure saw Dhoni walk out to the crease. The stage was set for Dhoni to replicate his heroics from Dharamshala in IPL 3. He did not disappoint and his boundary of Mithun of a free hit and a beautiful cover drive of Vettori gave an indication of the kind of form he is in. He was timing the balls nicely and rotated the strike well with Raina who was on the verge of going berserk himself.
With Chennai needing 58 runs from the last four overs, Vettori entrusted Zaheer to bowl the 17th over. Raina welcomed him with a six over mid-wicket and Dhoni brought out the ‘Helicopter Shot’ to get another DLF maximum. Dhoni holed out in the deep in an attempt to clear the fence but Raina ensured that all jitters were removed by hitting Zaheer for another 6. In an astonishing over that cost 20 runs, Zaheer’s figures had gone from 3-0-11-1 to 4-0-31-2. Gayle built up the pressure with another superb over to increase the required rate again. However the inexperience of Aravind came to the fore who missed the block hole twice and was deposited unceremoniously out of the ground both times. Raina also hit a six over midwicket to reduce the target to 12 off the last over.
Vettori did a brave job by coming on to bowl the final over himself. Morkel dispatched the second ball of the over for a four before taking a couple of runs to bring the equation to 5 off 3. Raina went down with cramps again and seemed to be really struggling. Morkel shortened his misery by hitting the next ball for a six to complete a remarkable chase.
Bangalore will take heart from the fact that their batting line-up put up a huge total without a significant contribution from Gayle for a change. Also their bowling display upfront was fantastic with Zaheer looking more like the one we have now become used to seeing. However their inability to close the match is a bother. Chennai won the battle mainly because they kept their calm at crucial junctures. They did not wilt under pressure and went above scoring at over 12 for the last 10 overs of their innings with a poise that would disturb the other teams.
Chennai are looking like champions and are increasingly looking to be ‘in their zone’. They have reached a point that their team is settled with everyone selecting themselves and have no issues with out-of-form players. They go to the finals that will be played on their home turf having had rest for the better part of this week. A notable feature of this new system of playoffs is that their opponents will have to play back to back matches on 27th and 28th. That will surely give them an edge over their opponents. Bangalore awaits the winners of the Eliminator and will surely feel that they would have done themselves a huge favour by winning a match that they were in a comfortable position.
PS – After the customary handshakes at the end of the game, it was interesting to see Dhoni and Saurabh Tiwary stick around and talking animatedly. The boys from Jharkhand took a chance to catch up but their discussion did not look to be anything related to cricket. Maybe about a new restaurant in Ranchi that Dhoni was recommending!