MS Dhoni has complained about the 7.30pm start time of IPL evening matches – arguing that with the dew descending at 8 o’clock those bowling first have a half-hour advantage of working with a totally dry ball – so it was no surprise that, given the opportunity, he put Punjab Kings in to bat in Mumbai. But the CSK captain probably wouldn’t have predicted what great use his bowlers and fielders would make of those 30 minutes as Punjab collapsed to 26 for five, setting the scene for a comprehensive six-wicket victory.
Deepak Chahur picked up four of those wickets – recording his best IPL figures – while Ravi Jadeja, a beast of a predator at cover point, effected a brilliant run out and catch to send back Punjab dangermen KL Rahul and Chris Gayle.
Only Shahrukh Khan came to terms with the situation and, in sweet but sadly too-short stands with the lower order, gave his team the most distant of outside shots at victory.
Any notions of achieving that, however, went with a second-wicket stand between Moeen Ali and Faf du Plessis of 66 in 8.3 overs. When Moeen went for a gloriously fluent 46, CSK needed only 17 runs to win with more than seven overs remaining and although Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayadu rather threw away their wickets to Mohammed Shami, who was briefly on a hat-trick, the South African opener guided the game to its foregone conclusion.
Chahar had given Punjab the worst of all starts in his first over when he bowled Mayank Agarwal with a juicy outswinger, and although Chris Gayle hit him for two boundaries in his third over – one a deft flick over square leg, the other a less pleasing carve over the two slips – he was soon fooled by a slower knuckle ball and looped up a chance to cover that the ever-ready Jadeja dived forward to take.
Inbetween, in the pace bowler’s second over, Jadeja had pounced as Rahul hesitated in coming through for a single and the all-rounder from Saurashtra beat him with his remarkable speed of arm.
Things didn’t improve: Nicholas Pooran, out first ball hooking against Rajasthan Royals, lasted only a ball longer this time, surprised into the same shot by Chahar’s bouncer and while he connected well, he couldn’t control it and was caught at long leg, who barely had to move.
Chahar was now in the zone and Dhoni’s decision to bowl him out was a good one as he picked up another important scalp. Deepak Hooda was coming off a scintillating 64 from 28 balls in the high-scoring opener against Rajasthan and had already composed a couple of impressive back-foot drives, but when he checked his shot on the front foot he offered up a simple catch to mid-off.
Chahar was left to celebrate figures of four for 13 in a good week for the Chahar cousins – Rahul having picked up four for 27 for Mumbai against Kolkata.
Shahrukh and Jhye Richardson, both playing only their second IPL matches, set about repairing the damage – if it wasn’t already well past that point – and did as good a job as they could, more than doubling the score. However, in the 13th over, Richardson got overambitious and misjudged the length of a Moeen Ali delivery, bowled as he tried to pull.
The bulky 25-year-old right-hander from Chennai, named after the KKR owner and actor 30 years his senior, also contributed the great majority of the 30 he added with Murugan Ashwin and, in the 19th over. guided his team into three figures in the company of Shami, batting for the first time since Pat Cummins broke his arm in Adelaide.
Sam Curran, though, was brought back for the final over and deprived Shahrukh of the fifty he deserved as his mistimed pull found the safest hands in the ground – Jadeja’s. But his 47, from 32 balls and including four fours and a couple of sixes, helped to make something of a game of it.
CSK were unable to get the fast start they wanted – and which you so often get in matches like this – and they had scratched around to 24 in the first five overs for the loss of Ruturaj Gaikwad, held at deep backward square off Arshdeep for a painful five from 16 balls.
But the entrance of Moeen proved a breath of fresh air in a stultifying contest, as he drove with majesty and elegance, threading a couple of drives through the off-side field with uncanny precision and jumping on to anything short.
Rahul, the Punjab captain, turned to his best strike bowler in Shami, bringing him back for the 11th over and although he hurried Moeen a couple of times, further drives and pulls meant he went for 10 runs at the hands of the England all rounder, who seems to have found a comfortable spot in this CSK line-up.
Moeen perished trying to repeat a slog sweep for six off Ashwin, but by then it was as good as done and dusted and Dhoni, playing his 200th match for Chennai, had captained his side to a win with more than four overs to spare – an always helpful boost to their net run rate.