Chennai Super Kings vs. Kings XI Punjab: 5 Things We Learned
The Kings XI Punjab stunned two-time champions Chennai Super Kings at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, on Friday by chasing down an imposing target of 206 with seven balls to spare in the Indian Premier League.
With this result, both finalists of last year's edition have lost their first respective matches this season, after Mumbai Indians suffered a 41-run loss to Kolkata Knight Riders on the opening day of the tournament.
Chennai put on a mammoth 205 for four in 20 overs after electing to bat first. Openers Dwayne Smith (66 off 43 balls) and Brendon McCullum (67 of 45 balls) shared a 123-run stand to get things going, before Suresh Raina (24 off 19 balls), playing his 100th IPL match, and skipper MS Dhoni (26 off 11 balls) took CSK past the 200-mark.
On the other hand, Punjab faltered with their start, losing three wickets for 52 runs within the powerplay, but recovered thanks to a match-winning partnership of 115 between Glenn Maxwell (95 off 43 balls) and David Miller (54 not out off 37 balls), which was enough to see them through.
The result stuck true to our prediction before the game, though quite a few things were learnt along the way.
Glenn Maxwell Seems to Have Found the Right IPL Team
Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell created headlines last year after he was purchased for a cool $1 million for the 2013 IPL by the Mumbai Indians, as reported by ESPNcricinfo. Although Mumbai went on to win their maiden title, Maxwell was overshadowed by the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Karthik, Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard. The Australian featured in just three matches the whole season, scoring all of 36 runs.
However, the 25-year-old refused to be disheartened and performed well for Australia in the limited overs circuit. In the 2014 player auction for the IPL, he was picked up for a million dollars again (per NDTV Sports), this time by the Kings XI Punjab.
Maxwell played well in the 2014 ICC World T20, scoring 74 off 33 against Pakistan and 45 off 22 against West Indies, both in losing causes. His performances were good enough for Punjab skipper and fellow countryman George Bailey to pick him in the starting XI for their opening encounter in the 2014 IPL on Friday.
The Sheikh Zayed Stadium had already been treated to some ballistics by McCullum, who brought back memories of his spectacular unbeaten 158 in the inaugural match of the tournament back in 2008, which coincidentally took place exactly six years ago. McCullum's knock was everything that the crowd wanted: slam, bang, pow and whack. Not many would have put their money on Punjab chasing down 205, considering their batting on paper ended at No. 6 with captain Bailey.
However, Punjab did not need any more batsmen thanks to Maxwell and Miller. Maxwell, in particular, impressed by striking a fine balance between aggression and composure in his innings, mixed with the right amount of innovation.
If McCullum was all power and brute force, Maxwell wowed the crowd with his nonchalant reverse-hits and overhead scoops, all of which were perfectly timed and effective, save for the one time when he found the shoulder of the blade and skied Ravindra Jadeja when on 37. However, luck was to be on his side as Ashish Nehra almost comically dropped a sitter at short third-man.
On 72, Maxwell was to get another life as substitute fielder Samuel Badree dropped him at deep square-leg. Chennai were to pay for their lax fielding as the Australian went on to beat his highest score of 92 in Twenty20 cricket, before falling three runs later with the score at 167 for four in the 16th over. However, the damage was done by then as Punjab strolled past the finish line.
Maxwell seems to have found the right team in the IPL to bring forth his true abilities and talent. Punjab are not the limelight-hogging, star-studded team that are Mumbai Indians and would provide ample opportunities for Maxwell to shine.
Going by Friday's opening act, Maxwell could go on to make this season his own and finally prove to world exactly why he is worth a million dollars.
Mitchell Johnson Is Not a Miracle Man
Punjab's other million-dollar recruit, Mitchell Johnson, has been on enough front pages in the last few months to fill up a portfolio. The man of the series in the 2013-14 Ashes Down Under, with 37 wickets in five Tests that helped Australia whitewash England 5-0, Johnson was a prize catch in the 2014 IPL auction and highly bolstered Punjab's bowling attack.
We had noted in our preview that Punjab would do well not to rely heavily on Johnson to get the job done. The 32-year-old's presence could be as much a banana peel as it could an ace of spades. As it turned out, Johnson was thrashed for 47 runs in his wicketless four overs.
Punjab's bowling was all over the place with the experienced Lakshmipathy Balaji (two for 43) providing juicy full-tosses in the death overs to Chennai's loaded batting line-up.
Parwinder Awana (one for 35) and Akshar Patel (one for 34) proved ineffective as well, on a surface that had a green tinge. Only medium pacer Rishi Dhawan (none for 21) proved to be economical as Chennai put on 205 on the board.
Punjab were rescued by Maxwell and Miller on the day, but they would know that it won't always be the case.
Chennai's Batting Line-Up Is One of the Best in the Tournament
When Chennai failed to retain Michael Hussey in the player auction, their fans would have been worried. It's difficult to replace someone who has been with the team for six years and scored 1,694 runs at an average of over 43. Chennai also lost their other regular opener, Murali Vijay, in the auction.
However, when Chennai announced their playing XI on Friday, any worries would have been disposed. The batting line-up read: Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis, MS Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja and an able number eight in Ravichandran Ashwin.
As it would turn out, Chennai did not need to dig in deep into their resources at all. The new opening pairing of McCullum and Smith got off to a flier and wiped away any memories of Hussey and Vijay. If anything, the new pairing looked even more explosive than the old one, and is followed by the tried-and-tested nucleus of the Chennai team.
However, as Friday's result proved, Chennai's batting strength isn't always going to be good enough to win them games. Dhoni and Co. would have learned well by now to not be overly dependent on their top eight.
Chennai Need to Find the Right Bowling Combination
As for Chennai's bowling, which relies so heavily on spin, it turned out to be a nightmare as Ashwin, Jadeja and Pawan Negi went for a combined 121 runs in 11 overs between them. Chennai also lost Bravo midway through the innings to injury, but Dhoni was to reveal in a post-match chat that the Trinidadian wasn't fit to bowl and was chosen only as a batsman.
This brings us to the question as to why Bravo, an all-rounder by trade and an overseas player on top of that, was picked in the XI if he wasn't completely fit. Chennai are not by any means lacking in the batting department that they could not afford Bravo's absence. Would they have benefited by including an extra bowler in Samuel Badree instead? Possibly.
Chennai would be prudent to to get their bowling combination right if they want to prosper in this tournament. Their batting might be very good, but as the old saying goes, it's the bowlers who win you games.
Controversy? What Controversy?
The build-up to Chennai's IPL season was all about the off-field drama surrounding the corruption case that erupted last year, reported by the BBC, and which had its epicentre within their camp.
Head coach Stephen Fleming even admitted to the press before the tournament begun that there were "a lot of distractions" (per ESPNcricinfo). Two days ahead of this fixture, it was revealed (per NDTV Sports) that an independent committee appointed by the Indian Supreme Court to probe the case had named N Srinivasan, former Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president and managing director of India Cements—the company that owns CSK—in its report.
The name of captain Dhoni had also cropped up, with the prosecution accusing him of concealing Meiyappan's identity. But controversy isn't new to Dhoni, who seems to shield any nerves well beneath his rapidly greying hairline. Last year, barely a month after the scandal broke, he led India to victory in the ICC Champions Trophy. Last month, when his name did the rounds in the papers in connection with the case again (per NDTV Sports), he took India to the final of the 2014 ICC World T20.
Chennai may have lost their opening match, but their first-innings performance was good enough to suggest that they have learned to block out all the noise well. In spite of their off-field troubles, Chennai proved that it would be unwise of their opposition to take them lightly.