Dhoni and Southee pull off yorker coup
Kolkata were on top when they needed nine runs to win off the last eight balls, but Chennai squeaked through thanks to Southee's exemplary final over. Having delivered a couple of yorkers well outside off stump earlier in the over, Southee finished the game with an inswinger on Rajat Bhatia's toes that yielded only a single, leaving Kolkata three runs short.
That ball came after much deliberation between Dhoni and Southee, and several changes to the field. "For the last ball, I was confused between the two options - yorker outside off, or yorker at the batsman's feet," Dhoni explained later. "First [earlier in the over], we compromised and went for outside-off yorkers, but later I thought with the field we had, it was good to go with the batsman, towards the batsman. Because, then, even if he hits the ball there are two fielders to field the ball, he will have to hit a brilliant shot through midwicket to get to the boundary."
Despite having retained most of their key players from prior seasons, Dhoni revealed that his team was a little apprehensive going into the game, since they had not played together as a unit before. In what has now become his trademark style, Dhoni had a motorcar analogy to make his point. "It was the first game of the IPL with a slightly new squad," Dhoni said. "You get a new car and you want to break it in, but you don't want to 'break it' in. Everyone was a bit tentative at start of the game since it was a new squad. Even if we did not win this game, we would have got a lot out of it."
Things worked out well for Chennai on the field after Kolkata got off to a confident start to the chase of 154, rattling up 64 for 0 in 8.4 overs. Thereafter, Chennai turned the tide, with Dhoni himself effecting three stumpings as the spinners came into their own. Dhoni also scored a direct hit to run Yusuf Pathan out, while Scott Styris hit the stumps to send Gautam Gambhir back.
"The fielding was very good," Dhoni said. "I thought 150 was enough on this wicket, but the new ball was important. If we had given too many with the new ball, it would have been tough to contain later on. Most people thought after 8 overs the game was over with 60-70 runs on the board, but I told my players the game had only started since the ball was stopping, and there would be a bit of reverse swing. That's when we needed the breakthroughs and I am glad they were provided."
While Dhoni's tactical moves clicked, things went the other way for Gambhir. His decision to drop down the order was met with surprise. By the time he came out at No. 6, the pressure had mounted considerably on Kolkata since they had lost Jacques Kallis and Eoin Morgan in quick succession. As it transpired, Gambhir was run out attempting a suicidal second, leaving his team in further trouble.
"It's just a strategy with Jacques Kallis and me, the two of us keep batting steadily while the rest keep coming hard from the other end," Gambhir said. If Jacques gets out early, I can go out and anchor the innings. It was just a strategy that we tried, it didn't work."
Despite Gambhir's failure, Kolkata hit their way back into the game, with Manoj Tiwary clubbing Suraj Randiv for two sixes to reduce the equation to nine off eight. Gambhir admitted that they should have won it from there, but chose to instead focus on the positives. "This is just the start of the tournament, I think we played reasonably well, and hopefully we can get a lot of confidence from the game," he said. "With Brett Lee and Shakib Al Hasan coming in [after the Bangladesh-Australia ODIs], it will only boost our bowling attack . We need to try and not make the same mistakes we made in this game"
Chennai's score was made possible by S Anirudha's innings of 64, which consisted of some fluent hits over the in-field amidst a lot of scratchiness. Anirudha admitted it wasn't an easy pitch to bat on. "I got a chance to open after a long time and I liked it," Anirudha said. "Initially I thought this was a good wicket for a score of 160-170. I later realised the ball is not coming on as much as I thought it would. The pitch was two-paced, some were skidding on, some were stopping and turning. Around the 16th over, I thought 160 was a good total and we eventually got there."