It's amazing what defeat can do to you. It is clear as water that Chennai Super Kings, the most successful franchise in the Indian Premier League, do not like to lose. So, when they were beaten in their opening match of the 2014 season by the Kings XI Punjab even after putting on more than 200 runs on the board, it would have stung.
Coming into the tournament, much was said and written about CSK's heavily loaded batting line-up. Even after having lost both their regular openers, Michael Hussey and Murali Vijay, in the auction, Chennai managed to purchase players who were more than able replacements.
When your batting line-up reads Brendon McCullum (IPL strike rate: 123.93), Dwayne Smith (134.65), Suresh Raina (141.13), Faf du Plessis (131.46), MS Dhoni (142.47), Dwayne Bravo (134.82) and Ravindra Jadeja (138.06), you have the luxury of affording a weaker bowling formation.
However, Chennai were to learn otherwise in the opening fixture, after Kings XI Punjab managed to chase down 205 with seven balls to spare. With a bowling line-up that relies so heavily on spin, their three spinners—Ravichandran Ashwin, Jadeja and Pawan Negi—went for a combined 121 runs in 11 overs between them.
To make matters worse, they lost Bravo to injury midway through the match, and it has now been declared that the Trinidadian all-rounder will miss the entire tournament, per ESPNcricinfo.
Apart from their formidable batting strength, Chennai also have one of the best fielding units on paper, comprising Raina, Jadeja, du Plessis, McCullum and a fit Bravo. However, against Punjab, they dropped three catches that on any other day would have been regulation takes.
The six-wicket defeat would have wounded Chennai's pride. So, come Monday, everyone would have anticipated a response in their second fixture. And a response they did get.
What transpired at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi was a thoroughly vintage CSK performance, ticking all three boxes: batting, bowling and fielding. Batting first again, Chennai even went back to their tried and tested method of starting watchfully and keeping wickets intact before going on an all-out assault in the final few overs.
Chennai were 119 for three in 16 overs and ended up with 177 on the board. It wasn't 205 like earlier, but then those many runs aren't required when your other departments turn up as well.
Chennai brought in Ishwar Pandey and Ben Hilfenhaus for the game, and the duo provided a perfect start with its probing and accurate out-swingers. With a required rate of almost nine runs an over, it wasn't long before the Delhi batsmen tried to break free.
In the third over, Mayank Agarwal tried to hit inside-out a length ball from Pandey but only managed to lob it towards cover. The ball looked due to drop a little wide of the cover position and, normally, it would have been a difficult catch for any ordinary fielder.
But Suresh Raina is no ordinary fielder. The 27-year-old sprinted like his life depended on it, made the perfect dive for effect and eventually made the catch look easy. Whatever you can do, I can do better, said Faf du Plessis as he went on to take a couple of absolute stunners running back from mid-off in the next couple of overs.
The Daredevils were 17 for three in the fifth over. While teams have recovered from such scores, considering the energy and pyrotechnics displayed by Chennai on the field, 177 seemed far, far away. With their opposition's confidence severely dented, Chennai lost no time in going for the kill.
Just three days earlier, Delhi had chased down 167 made by the Kolkata Knight Riders in Dubai. However, they could just manage 84 this time around with their 10 available batsmen, having lost the services of Nathan Coulter-Nile to a hamstring injury three balls into the match.
It ended a superb all-round and traditional CSK performance, one that would have the other seven teams worrying. If anyone still thinks that Chennai are distracted from their off-field woes, they've got another thing coming. It was the CSK of yore that turned up on Monday evening in Abu Dhabi, and they intend to stick around. It spells trouble for anyone coming in their way.
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