Super Kings hit on pitch-perfect strategy
It was one of those periods of play during which even IPL crowds are left to their own devices. The DJ's console and the emcee's microphone were enjoying a rare spell of rest, with no boundaries or wickets in the last 15 balls. Up in the South Panoramic stand, you could watch the cricket, from a spectacular, straight-on, bird's eye vantage, as well as hear the faint chirp of crickets in the distance. It was just about audible, a susurrating accompaniment to the beat of a lone drum from somewhere in the crowd.
Out in the middle, something slightly unusual was happening. Ishwar Pandey, who had taken the new ball for Chennai, was in the final over of his four-over quota. He had bowled unchanged from one end. From the other, Chennai had used Ben Hilfenhaus for one over before turning to Mohit Sharma. MS Dhoni had seen no need to turn to spin.
The pitch had a green tinge to it, as had been the case right from the opening match of the tournament, and all three Chennai fast bowlers had been getting the new ball to nip around off the seam. This has also been a feature of matches at this venue, apart from the one afternoon game between Chennai and Punjab.
Hitting the back-of-a-length ball through or across the line wasn't easy, as Mayank Agarwal, M Vijay and Manoj Tiwary had found out, the hard way. Chennai's fielders, meanwhile, were putting on an exhibition of high-quality catching, the first time any side had done so in the tournament.
Off the last ball of the seventh over, the last ball of Pandey's spell, Dinesh Karthik broke the gloom that had settled over the game, clattering a short-ish ball through point for four. Music, if you could call the Delhi team anthem that, filled the air once more. "Munday Dilli ke, haan khele front foot pe." Roughly translated: Delhi's boys play on the front foot.
It would have helped JP Duminy had he kept that in mind when he faced the next ball from that end, where Dwayne Smith had replaced Pandey. It was full and straight, and it jagged back into the left-handed batsman, who was caught on the crease and trapped plumb in front. Delhi, chasing 178, were now 42 for 4 in 8.1 overs.
At the same stage of their innings, Chennai had been 47 for 1. They had lost their one wicket, of Brendon McCullum, in much the same way Delhi were to lose their first three. McCullum had charged Jaydev Unadkat, gotten nowhere near a back-of-a-length ball angled across him, and toe-ended a catch to short third man. Apart from that, though, Chennai hadn't played any really indiscreet shots.
Delhi's fast bowlers had also derived movement with the new ball. Mohammed Shami had had a close lbw shout turned down against Dwayne Smith, off a ball that had jagged away from the right-hander, and had beaten Suresh Raina a couple of times with balls that had left the left-hander. The ball before he dismissed McCullum, Unadkat had found his leading edge with one that cut away off the pitch, only for Duminy to drop a dolly at short cover.
Delhi, though, had used spinners for four of the first ten overs, and taken Shami off after he had bowled two, and just when he was looking dangerous. They couldn't be faulted too much for this, though; they had lost their quickest bowler three balls into the match, when Nathan Coulter-Nile injured himself while trying to stop a ball at square leg.
Without Coulter-Nile, Delhi's seam attack looked decidedly short on quality, apart from Shami, who started promisingly but ended up as their most expensive bowler after two shoddy overs at the death. By that time, though, their lack of options had hurt them badly. They probably wouldn't have used Duminy for his full quota had Coulter-Nile not gone off the field, and they certainly wouldn't have used Murali Vijay; that one over of Vijay's less-than-occasional offbreaks disappeared for 13 runs, with Suresh Raina spanking him for three fours in four balls.
Just as that one unfortunate incident upset Delhi's balance completely, everything fell into place for Chennai. It started with their selection. They resisted the popular idea of bringing in the legspinner Samuel Badree and opted instead for Hilfenhaus, and they gave Pandey a go in place of Ashish Nehra. They won the toss and batted, and when their turn came to bowl the pitch was doing even more than it had done in the first innings. Whether by design or not, they had gotten their strategy pitch-perfect.
First ball of Delhi's tenth over, Hilfenhaus let slip, quite literally, a full-toss onto Ross Taylor's pads. Taylor tucked it away to the fine leg boundary. Hilfenhaus ran to the umpire and reached for the towel stuck in his waistband. Had Delhi not lost so many wickets so early, they might have been in a position to think of exploiting the dew.
Instead, Hilfenhaus bowled an absolute peach next ball, an away-curler that Taylor followed and edged to the keeper. Delhi were 50 for 5. Up in the South Panoramic Stand, the first wave of spectators began making their way to the exit doors.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo