SEPTEMBER 19, 2020
Brief Scorecard: Chennai Super Kings 166 for 5 (Rayudu 71, du Plessis 58*) beat Mumbai Indians 162 for 9 (Tiwary 42, de Kock 33, Ngidi 3-38, D Chahar 2-32, Jadeja 2-42) by five wickets
Ambati Rayudu goes for the big one. – BCCI
The IPL is back. This particular season might be unusual to the point of being surreal, but the start had elements that fans back in India will find most comforting in their predictability: an opening-game defeat for the Mumbai Indians – who last won their season-opener back in 2012 – dew, and a tactically intriguing chase finished off with MS Dhoni at the crease.
Dhoni only faced two balls, though, and didn’t score a run. He made a more significant impact with his batting order, promoting the left-hand pair of Ravindra Jadeja and Sam Curran above himself to exploit an unusually limited Mumbai attack.
Before that, though, the chase had been given stability and impetus by Faf du Plessis and Ambati Rayudu, respectively, after the Chennai Super Kings had lost both openers inside the first two overs against Trent Boult and James Pattinson, who got the new ball to nip around under lights in the brief window before dew turned conditions back in the batsmen’s favour. Rayudu and du Plessis added 115 for the third wicket before a superb 16th over from Rahul Chahar brought a sense of balance back into the contest, leaving the Super Kings needing 42 off 24 balls with Rayudu back in the dressing room. We’ll return to the finish later.
A rapid start, and two quick blows
Dhoni won the first toss of the season, and inserted Mumbai, citing dew (which did materialize) and the possibility of early moisture in the pitch (which didn’t prove to be such a factor) as his reasons. Rustiness showed in the opening spells from all three Super Kings fast bowlers, and Rohit and Quinton de Kock, in particular, took full toll, moving Mumbai to 45 for 0 after four overs.
Piyush Chawla came on for a change of pace and struck immediately, extending Rohit’s curious run of misfortune against legspinners in the IPL – 120 balls, 131 runs, nine dismissals since IPL 2017 – without bowling a particularly wicket-taking ball, Rohit spooning a half-hearted lofted hit into mid-off’s hands. De Kock swatted Curran straight to midwicket in the next over, and the Super Kings were suddenly testing the one big weakness in Mumbai’s line-up – the bridge between their openers and their end-overs hitters.
The calm before the non-storm
Suryakumar Yadav and Saurabh Tiwary – playing ahead of Ishan Kishan and getting his first IPL game since 2017 – did that bridging job adequately, putting on 44 in 5.5 overs, the kind of partnership that crops up from time to time in T20 games, somehow pleasing both teams at the same time.
The partnership was a prelude to the arrival of Kieron Pollard and the Pandya brothers, and when it ended, at the end of the 11th over, Mumbai were 92 for 3, with enough time and resources left for a push towards a total in the 180-200 range.
Mumbai seemed well on course when Pandya hit two sixes, off Jadeja, in his first five balls, and Tiwary muscled back-to-back fours in the next over, off Lungi Ngidi. They were still well placed, at 121 for 3, after a quiet 14th over from Chawla, who used his googly cleverly and kept the ball just short of a safely hittable length.
But two perfectly judged catches from du Plessis right on the edge of the boundary – at long-on for Tiwary and long-off for Pandya – sent both batsmen back in the 15th over, bowled by Jadeja. The boundaries in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are considerably longer than the ones at the Wankhede and in most Indian grounds, and this was the first bit of evidence of how that might influence this tournament.
Then, at the start of the 17th over, Krunal Pandya tickled a harmless delivery from Ngidi for a catch down the leg side, and Mumbai suddenly had just Pollard and the lower order at the crease. Without any grand plans from the Super Kings, and without the batting team doing anything egregiously wrong, the innings was unravelling. Only 26 came off the last 24 balls of Mumbai’s innings, and only 41 off their last 36, for the loss of six wickets.
Rayudu, du Plessis rebuild after new-ball burst
Before the tournament began, a lot of the talk was around how the pitches in the UAE would slow down through constant use and assist spinners more and more. Perhaps to prevent or delay that outcome, this pitch had a healthy layer of grass on it, and Mumbai’s new-ball pair of Trent Boult and James Pattinson took whatever help they could out of it – and whatever early swing they could find – to dismiss Shane Watson and M Vijay, both lbw to balls that deviated into them from Test-match lengths.
At 6 for 2 after two overs, and without Suresh Raina, this was a sticky spot for the Super Kings. But the asking rate was still manageable, and they managed it with an old-fashioned sort of partnership: du Plessis simply turned the strike over at his end, an approach that didn’t put his team under too much pressure thanks to Rayudu’s ball-striking form at the other end.
There were a couple of early moments that went the Super Kings’ way. Jasprit Bumrah bowled a wide half-tracker that Rayudu slapped for four, and that ball – which should have been the last ball of the Powerplay – turned out to be a no-ball. The free-hit was short too, and Rayudu, expecting that length, sat deep in his crease, stayed leg-side of the ball, and flat-batted it for a big six over wide long-on.
Then, in the 10th over, an inside-edged sweep-pull from Rayudu dribbled past the diving Bumrah at short fine leg – a more athletic fielder would probably have stopped it. Next ball, Boult – one of the world’s best outfielders – misfielded at the cover boundary to give away another four.
Along with all this, Rayudu kept pulling off some audacious hits: a clean, baseball-style swipe over midwicket after Krunal Pandya had spotted him advancing and pulled his length back; a flat-bat slap off Bumrah that nearly took the bowler’s hand off; an inside-out drive over extra-cover off Rahul Chahar.
With du Plessis only going at a run a ball at the other end, though, Mumbai were still in the game, just about. Then Rahul Chahar, running up in a reverse diagonal across the umpire and delivering his legbreaks just short of a length, dismissed Rayudu and conceded just five runs in the 16th over, leaving the Super Kings 42 to get off 24 balls.
Dhoni aces the match-ups
Hardik Pandya was playing his first competitive game since September 2019, having undergone back surgery in the interim, and was evidently not yet fit enough to bowl. Rohit did not use Pollard either, on a truer pitch than the ones the West Indian had bowled on in the CPL. This meant Mumbai had only five bowling options, and the left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya had to bowl the 18th over, with the Super Kings needing 29 at that stage.
Krunal wasn’t bowling to Dhoni, as might be expected in such a situation, but the left-handed Jadeja who had been promoted just for this match-up.
A quicker ball trapped Jadeja first up, and Dhoni sent in another left-hander, Curran. He clattered the fourth ball of the over – a full-toss – over midwicket for six, and slapped the next one – wide of off stump but not wide enough to be out of his reach – to the cover boundary.
Curran followed up with a leg-side six off Jasprit Bumrah at the start of the next over, and with less than a run a ball needed now, the contest was over. Dhoni, in the end, almost only had to pad up for ceremonial reasons.