“You don’t leave the Universe Boss until I call it quits. The confidence will never leave. I will take that to my grave.”
R Ashwin unchained the Chris Gayle-trump card on his old playmates, and the Universe Boss marked his arrival in some fashion to play a key role in helping Kings XI Punjab beat Chennai Super Kings by four runs at the Punjab Cricket Association IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali on Sunday (April 15). However, the win didn’t come easy for the home team as they were taken to the limit by Mahendra Singh Dhoni (44-ball 79*).
Playing his first game of the season, Chris Gayle (33-ball 66) got Punjab off to a ferocious start before the Chennai bowlers scripted a comeback to restrict the home side to 197 for 7 in 20 overs. In reply, Dhoni kept Chennai in the hunt till the 16th over before unleashing in the final four overs.
With 17 runs in the bank, Mohit Sharma bowled a tight final over against his former team and Dhoni could only manage 12 runs. Chennai finished on 193 for 5 in 20 overs.
Defending a mammoth total, Mohit outfoxed Shane Watson (11) early with his back of a hand slower ball. M Vijay (12) too perished soon and left Chennai struggling at 39 for 2. Having lost both of their openers, Chennai needed Ambati Rayudu and Sam Billings, the last-match hero, to come good, but Ashwin had other plans.
Ashwin, who has only recently added leg-spin to his variations, used one to outsmart Billings for 9. However, he was turned down by the on-field umpire and had to get it overturned by sending it upstairs.
With the required run-rate mounting up, Rayudu was then joined by Dhoni, the skipper, and the two batted sensibly to keep the scoreboard ticking. Both the batsmen kept finding boundaries at regular intervals and took Chennai past 100 by the end of 12th over.
The duo struggled against Mujeeb Zadran and Ashwin, and the moment Barinder Sran was reintroduced into the attack, Rayudu welcomed him with a six over deep backward square leg. However, the 32-year-old was run out one ball later and left Chennai with a mountain to climb.
Needing 67 off 24 balls, Dhoni started to open up, and collected a combined 31 runs off 17th and 18th over. In the process, despite a stiff back, Dhoni also brought up his fifty. Tye did manage to send Jadeja back in the second ball of the penultimate over, but then got blasted for 18 runs off his next four balls. However, Mohit managed to survive against one of the best in the business and led Punjab to their second win of the edition.
Earlier, KL Rahul’s tremendous form was on display in the very first over when the 26-year-old crafted Deepak Chahar for two delightful cover drives. Meanwhile, Gayle announced his arrival with a cover drive of his own.
The ploy of using Harbhajan Singh did no wonder for Chennai as the opening duo clouted the offspinner for four boundaries, including a six, in his second over. While Gayle was all about muscle and power, Rahul put together a garland of cover drives and pull shots to help Punjab cross the 50-run mark by the end of the fifth over.
The carnage didn’t stop there as Gayle slaughtered Chahar and Imran Tahir all around the park to bring up his fifty of just 22 deliveries. The ruthless 96-run association finally ended in the final ball of the eighth over when Rahul chipped a low full toss – bowled by Harbhajan – straight to Dwayne Bravo at cover. He scored a 22-ball 37 that included seven fours.
Coming in at No. 3, Mayank Agarwal continued the momentum from the word go and took the mantle of finding boundaries from Gayle, who surprisingly slowed down after Rahul’s departure. India’s MVP of the 2017-18 domestic season started with a couple of lusty blows and kept the scoreboard galloping.
Having not scored a single boundary in last seven deliveries, Gayle’s stay finally came to an end in the 12th over when he top-edged Shane Watson’s bouncer direct to Tahir at the short fine leg. Tahir then removed Agarwal (19-ball 30) and Aaron Finch in back-to-back deliveries to become only the second overseas legspinner after Shane Warne (57 wickets) to pick up 50 wickets in the IPL. This was Finch’s second golden duck in as many matches since his arrival.
Yuvraj Singh (13-ball 20) played a couple of voguish strokes but failed to carry on as Punjab lost four crucial wickets in the space of 30 runs. Karun Nair (29 in 17) played a handy cameo but failed to get Punjab over the 200-run mark. For Chennai, Shardul Thakur and Tahir picked up two wickets each, while Bravo (1 for 37) played his part by bowling a brilliant final over.