Two nights after Chennai Super Kings unleashed a spectacular late flourish to overwhelm Royal Challengers Bangalore, the defending champions were at the receiving end of another last-over finish.
The irrepressible Steve Smith (44 n.o., 22b, 4×4, 3×6) played an outstanding innings of cheeky brilliance, a knock that included both unorthodox strokeplay and more conventional batsmanship, to power Pune Warriors India back to the top of the IPL 2012 standings at the sea of blue that the Subrata Roy Sahara stadium in Pune was on Saturday night.
Their third win from four games, earned by seven wickets with four deliveries to spare, had been fashioned by a competent bowling display with spinners Rahul Sharma and Murali Kartik in the forefront as the Super Kings were restricted to a sub-par 155 for five after opting to bat first.
Even that total would not have been possible had Faf du Plessis at the top of the order, and $US2 million man Ravindra Jadeja at the end, not played with purpose and authority. The Super Kings, however, missed a trick or two by not optimising the form of either Albie Morkel and Dwayne Bravo, who between them faced just five deliveries at the tail end of the innings.
Pune Warriors put out a brand new opening pair as Robin Uthappa strode out alongside Jesse Ryder, skipper Sourav Ganguly pushing himself down to number three with an eye on a brisk start through a left-right combination. Uthappa struck one mighty six but was the first of two run out victims, Ganguly himself the other as he failed to beat a throw to the non-striker’s end from deep point by Jadeja, not bowled at all by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Through it all, Ryder carried on unflustered. For the first time this season, the stocky Kiwi did justice to his talent, hitting through or over the infield with impunity on a track where the new ball was easy to put away, but stroke-making became increasingly difficult as the ball got older and softer.
That’s exactly why Smith’s innings should go down as a special one. When he walked out, the Pune Warriors required 66 in 42 deliveries. That came down to 34 off 18, but Smith settled the issue with four fours and two sixes in the next 14 deliveries, completely dominating an unseparated fourth-wicket alliance of 66 (40b) with Ryder, who brought up his highest IPL score of 73 (56b, 7×4, 1×6). Ten were needed off the last over sent down by Super Kings debutant V Yo Mahesh; two deliveries into the over, the holders had slumped to their third defeat in five matches.