May 11, 2009

We cannot afford to start looking ahead

Winning on Saturday night against Rajasthan Royals was an important stepping-stone to the IPL semi-finals, sealing our sixth win and lifting us to the top of the table (at least for one day), but there is no scope for complacency. This tournament is far too tight for that.

After an indifferent start, the Chennai Super Kings are now playing good cricket. Our bowling is balanced and we have a great deal of confidence in our batting, led by Mathew Hayden, a true run machine who has rolled back the years and showed incredible consistency.

However, as MS Dhoni has stressed time and time again in the past week, our fielding remains below par, particularly the catching. We have been fortunate not to pay a heavier price for our butter-fingered lapses and we need to address this in the final two weeks.

It is important now that we focus on each game. We cannot afford to start looking ahead. We must ensure we keep the winning momentum and, more importantly, keep improving. In Twenty20 cricket momentum is precious, you lose it and things can go rapidly downhill - just ask the Knight Riders.

The Rajasthan win was especially pleasing because we reacted so well to chasing. Shane Warne tried some light-hearted 'kidology' at the toss, suggesting we don't like chasing. There was an element in truth in that because our preference is usually to bat first.

However, as MS replied, good batting sides are traditionally good chasers - remember Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup - and we felt the strength of our batting would put them under pressure when it came to setting a target. They started decently, but we dragged them back beautifully.

With the bowlers doing their job, restricting Rajasthan to a score perhaps 10 runs below par on a slow turning surface, the batsmen responded as expected. It was really encouraging to see S Badrinath seize his opportunity at No. 4 and play his best innings of the tournament. He's very talented.

With Hayden, Suresh Raina, Dhoni and now Badrinath all looking good at the top, and with the power hitting of Jacob Oram and Albie Morkel in the middle, things are looking pretty healthy. However, as we all know, it only takes one bad over to change the course of a Twenty20 game so we'll not be taking anyone lightly in our next four games this week.