Super Kings v New South Wales, CLT20, Chennai October 4, 2011

Law of Averages 1, Chennai Super Kings 0

After winning three of their first five tournaments, and making the semi-finals and final in the other two, Chennai Super Kings finally succumbed to the law of averages

Towards the end of the debacle that was the English summer, an SMS joke had become popular among Indian cricket tragics - that every day since April 2 has been Fools' Day for MS Dhoni's supporters.

It was dark humour at its worst, and sidestepped the fact that Dhoni's Chennai fans didn't have it so bad, with a memorable IPL campaign to savour after the World Cup. The Super Kings' abject Champions League defence, however, means his international blues have now extended to his franchise yellows. It also raises the more uncomfortable question of whether, six months after the best moment of his life, Dhoni has completely lost his winning touch.

By the time the last rites were administered - in front of a shell-shocked crowd that did not know what defeat meant until ten days back - the Super Kings were a poor imitation of the champion outfit whose dominance had become almost inevitable. Prior to this tournament, they had made four finals in five tournaments, and were losing semi-finalists in the other. Their last three campaigns had all ended in title wins. Surely there must have been a catch somewhere in the fine-print?

David Warner's mind-boggling century ended the Super Kings' fairytale in violent fashion, but there were warning signs right through the tournament. The consistency of their Indian batsmen - Suresh Raina, M Vijay and S Badrinath - had been the Super Kings' differentiator in the IPL, where other sides struggled to find domestic players good enough to back up international talent. The trio was collectively off the boil this time, managing a combined 158 runs in 12 outings, at an average of just over 13. Michael Hussey and Dwayne Bravo tried to carry the slack through the tournament, but it was always going to be too much.

While the batsmen were a let-down right through, the bowlers chose to misfire on the biggest day. Albie Morkel pulled out on the eve of the game, leaving the attack and the middle-order short-changed. His absence left the onus on Doug Bollinger and R Ashwin, but Warner had audacious plans in store for both. Ashwin came on inside the Powerplay, and Warner immediately unsettled him with a couple of clobbered switch-hits. Ashwin never recovered.

"He was one of their wicket-takers that we had to respect, but I thought why not go after him," Warner said. "We didn't want him to get on top of the batsmen. I thought the best way to go about it was to switch-hit him and make him think, 'Alright, where do I bowl now'. That's exactly what he did, he stopped at the crease and from there I knew he was going to start dragging them short and not pitch them up. We took him out of the equation and another guy had to stand up for them. Fortunately for us, none of them did."

In reality, Warner did not let anyone else do so. The Super Kings' cupboard had remained barren until Bollinger's inspirational arrival midway through the 2010 IPL season. Today he ran into his own men, in whose company he had won the inaugural edition of the Champions League. The team with more New South Welshmen won this battle, as Bollinger was looted for 48 in three overs.

"There's no doubt there's always a good rivalry with one of our players," Simon Katich said. "I am sure the boys probably had the battle in the back of their minds. They wanted to see who would win that battle with Doug and I am sure they wanted to get him!"

CSK may have got away with the odd player or two being off-colour. But for that, they would have needed Dhoni at his inspirational best. They would have needed the Dhoni who smashed Irfan Pathan into the ice-topped Dharamsala hills before jabbing his own helmet in an adrenaline-induced fury during IPL 2010. In his place, they had a mentally and physically jaded, error-prone man. Against Mumbai, he clanged a simple stumping to allow Malinga's match-winning heist. Against T&T, he crawled to 7 off 22 balls in a game that was lost by 12 runs. Against NSW, he was out of ideas against Warner, and out too soon in the chase.

Stephen Fleming, the CSK coach, admitted managing fatigue, especially with Dhoni, Raina and Hussey, was a challenge throughout the event. He also lamented the change in the Chepauk wicket that not only negated the home advantage, but also worked against the Super Kings' brand of cricket. To sum up, he could have just as well used a quote that Dhoni famously made - a few weeks early in hindsight - after India lost the Lord's Test. "Most of the things that could go wrong, did."

In retrospect, the amazing thing is that it took so long for that to happen to this side. Law of Averages 1, Chennai Super Kings 0.

Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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