Ajinkya Rahane praised the Maharashtra Cricket Association pitch at the toss, saying it looked good for “40 overs”. The BCCI West Zone curator Ramesh Mhamunkar did an excellent job at short notice after Chennai Super Kings’ home matches shifted to Pune. The ‘Whistle Podu Express’ from Chennai to Pune brought on a sizable chunk of home support. And after being sent in by the Royals skipper, Shane Watson threw a party. CSK are the dad’s army in this IPL in terms of average age. Their star players are past their prime. The team’s slow build-up approach was called passé. All said and done, cricket still remains a skill-based sport. Dwayne Bravo, 34, proved this with a match-winning knock against Mumbai Indians. MS Dhoni, 36, played the innings of the match against Kings XI Punjab, albeit in a losing chase. On Friday, Watson, 36, hammered a 57-ball 106, including nine fours and six sixes, steamrolling the Royals in the process.
Bravo and Dhoni still maintain their tenuous link to international cricket. Watson was done with it two years ago, plying his trade as a T20 freelancer of late. His fourth hundred in this format secured a 64-run win for the two-time IPL champions. CSK have now won three of their first four IPL matches this term. Watson rode his luck upfront. Rahul Tripathi dropped a sitter off Stuart Binny, playing for Dhawal Kulkarni, at first slip in the very first over of the match. The Aussie was batting on eight. The Royals all-rounder came back well to induce an outside edge after starting off with a no-ball followed by two crunching fours from Watson. Tripathi standing in the slip instead of Rahane or Ben Stokes, two world-class slippers, defied logic. Poor fielding seriously hurt the Royals today, but we would come to that later. The pitch offered consistent bounce and Watson merrily hit through the line, or played horizontal-bat shots. After hitting a six off K Gowtham, the CSK opener turned his attention towards Jaydev Unadkat with a glorious lofted cover drive into the stands and a pull over the deep backward square leg fence.
Unadkat became the buzz of the 2018 auction. But with only two wickets from five matches and an economy rate of 10.66, the left-arm seamer runs the risk of ending up as a Rs 11.5-crore flop, unless he improves in the remaining matches. Unadkat returned with 0/39 from four overs on Friday. Back to Watson and the freebie he got from Stokes down the leg side. Another four had been added to his tally. The fit-again Suresh Raina then took over and decimated this IPL’s most expensive auction buy with four boundaries on the spin in an over. Watson, on the other hand, cancelled Gowtham, with two sixes and a four against the offie. His half-century came off 28 balls. Ben Laughlin, too, had been clobbered and three fours in one Binny over took Watson closer to three figures. He eventually got there in 51 balls. After a disastrous season with Royal Challengers Bangalore last year, this was sort of redemption for the veteran, a la Chris Gayle. Old, indeed, is still gold.
CSK lose momentum
CSK were 150/2 after 13 overs, when the second strategic time-out was called. They lost Dhoni, Sam Billings and Watson in the next seven overs and scored only 54 runs. Shreyas Gopal took three wickets but thanks to Watson’s early assault, Chennai Super Kings still went past the 200-run mark without much fuss. In the context of the game, the sudden loss of momentum was just a minor blip.
Royals pay heavy price
Watson was dropped on eight in the first over. Another reprieve came close on its heels, as Tripathi yet again floored a catch—a tough chance this time—when the opener was on 18. Gowtham chose to throw hard at the non-striker’s end instead of tossing the ball back to Rahane, when Raina had given up. The off-spinner conceded 19 runs in that over. Raina made 46 runs off 29 balls and added 81 runs with Watson for the second wicket. Towards the back end of the innings, Sanju Samson dropped Bravo off Unadkat. The Royals fielding at times bordered on the amateurish. They paid a heavy price for the lapses.
As for their batting, scoreboard pressure got big on them after Shardul Thakur dismissed Heinrich Klaasen – in for D’Arcy Short – with a beauty and Rahane, too, departed early.