Dhoni still has it: Revives Super Kings, takes team to top of table

‘Thala' Dhoni walked out to bat in a situation that he relishes these days. It's been a while now that the marauder has become a builder. This was an opportunity to build at his own pace.

Synopsis: Chennai’s ‘Thala’ key as his knock trumps Stokes’s thrust.

‘Thala’ key

Early setbacks put the Chennai Super Kings under pressure after being sent in on a pitch that had very little pace and offered spongy bounce. A score of 27 for three in the fifth over was bad enough to quieten the home fans. Chepauk erupted instead at the fall of Kedar Jadhav’s wicket. ‘Thala’ Dhoni walked out to bat in a situation that he relishes these days. It’s been a while now that the marauder has become a builder. This was an opportunity to build at his own pace.

At Chepauk, bowlers, too, have a chance and a certain mastery over situations and conditions is required with regards to batting. Dhoni rolled back the years. Class never dies.

After 15 overs, Super Kings were 99/4, with Dhoni batting on 29 off 27 balls. He finished at 75 not out off 46 deliveries, hitting two fours and three sixes at the back end of the innings. The charge took Super Kings to 175/5 after 20 overs. As it turned out, the total was beyond par. Super Kings beat Rajasthan Royals by eight runs to make it three on the spin.

In the first half of his knock, when he was doing the resurrection job, Dhoni had just two fours and a six to his credit. In fact, his first four came in the 12th over, when Jaydev Unadkat had been brought into the attack. In Unadkat’s next over, Dhoni charged down the track and slapped a back-of-a-length delivery to the straight boundary. The Super Kings skipper targeted the Royals’ left-arm seamer.

The final over of the innings, bowled by Unadkat, yielded 28 runs. Ravindra Jadeja started it with a flat six in front of the sight screen before his captain took over. He picked a slower ball and sent it a few rows back over the deep square leg fence. He forced Unadkat to bowl outside off and waited for the ball to come to him before hitting it over long-off. By then, the Rajasthan Royals seamer had lost the plot. He bowled short and conceded a wide. Unadkat rounded off his misery by bowling a length delivery and conceding another six to Dhoni over long-on.

But maybe, the best part of Dhoni’s batting was the way he handled the excellent Jofra Archer. He knew that at 37 years of age, it would be difficult for him to force the pace against a 150kph bowler who seldom erred in line and length.

Royals skipper Ajinkya Rahane erred in his planning. Giving Unadkat the final over was a mistake. Ben Stokes still had one over left.

Stokes’s thrust

When Imran Tahir snapped Steve Smith in the 14th over of Royals’ chase, it felt like Super Kings had the game. At the end of the over, the asking rate surpassed 13. But the Royals team is replete with big players and Stokes threw the kitchen sink. Bravo bowled the 18th over and Stokes hit him for a six and a four. Another maximum from Archer – he is enhancing his reputation every game – brought the equation down to 25 runs from 12 balls. Shardul Thakur bowled a very decent penultimate over, but Stokes still managed to take a six off the medium pacer. Twelve runs were required off the final over and Dhoni decided to stick to Bravo, who took two wickets, including Stokes, and conceding only three runs.

Brief scores: Chennai Super Kings 175 for five in 20 overs (Dhoni 75 not out off 46 balls, Raina 36 off 32 balls; Archer 2/17) beat Rajasthan Royals 167 for eight in 20 overs (Stokes 46 off 26 balls, Tripathi 39 off 24 balls, Joffra Archer 24 not out off 11 balls; Chahar 2/19, Tahir 2/23) by eight runs.

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