Joginder the iceman holds his nerve
As the miscue from Harbhajan Singh's bat went up in the air, many in the crowd got to their feet. The relaxed good cheer of five overs earlier had given way to nail-biting tension, and a couple of them could barely look as S Badrinath ran in from long-off. The yellow headband told everyone that the local boy was under it, and the roar after he held on resonated around this famous old ground.
It still wasn't over though. Abhishek Nayar was still there, intent on showing just why he's so highly rated at the domestic level. Joginder Sharma, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's last-over specialist, had bowled tidily to concede just 17 in his first three overs, and with 19 needed from the last six balls, the crowd was slightly calmer.
They shouldn't have been. Nayar pulled the first ball for four and then smashed one over cover to bring the equation down to 11 from four. Joginder's next offering was a no-ball, and a free hit. Crucially though, Nayar took a single to backward point. Nine from four, but the far less dangerous Ashish Nehra on strike.
Joginder had been on this emotional rollercoaster before, in the final over of the Twenty20 World Cup, and once again, his composure saw him through. Nehra could do nothing with a yorker outside off stump, and when he squirted the next one out on to the off side, it left Nayar needing to strike at least two fours to win the game.
A lesser man might have lost his nerve, but Joginder seems to thrive in these situations. Another perfect yorker, and Nayar, who had batted superbly for 44 from just 18 balls, could only strike it straight to cover. Game effectively over.
The thrilling denouement to what was undoubtedly the game of the tournament so far rather obscured what had gone before, though there was plenty for both teams to take away from a match where fortunes fluctuated wildly as a result of the dew factor.
More than half an hour after the finish, the outfield looked like the water sprinklers had been on for hours and it was easy to see why even bowlers of the quality of Muttiah Muralitharan and Shaun Pollock had struggled to make a real impact. Matthew Hayden, who bludgeoned 81 from 46 balls to set Chennai on their way to a second massive total, admitted afterwards that the wet ball had loaded the dice in the batsmen's favour.
"The only disadvantage [for batsmen] was that the ball got quite discoloured," he said. "But they were changing it regularly, so there was no disadvantage for the batsmen."
When the schedule was drawn up, we labelled this game the battle of the Obnoxious Weed [Hayden's term of endearment for Harbhajan] and Head and Shoulders [courtesy of Robin Uthappa's subsequent remarks on Hayden]. It didn't quite turn out that way. Hayden faced only five balls from Harbhajan, taking him for three singles, and the final word went to Harbhajan, whose direct hit ended the slim hopes of a third century in the first week of the competition.
Hayden shared a 104-run partnership with Suresh Raina, and was candid in his assessment of the efforts of a young man touted as the future of Indian batsmanship not so long ago. "He played the better of the two innings," Hayden said. "He definitely hit the ball cleaner and sweeter than I did. His knock was perfect."
Kepler Wessels, the Chennai coach, echoed his view. "He [Raina] batted superbly even in the first game [against King's XI Punjab] and did well here. There'll be a big responsibility on him when Matthew and Michael Hussey leave."
The two Australian stalwarts are around only for another week, and Hayden chuckled when Wessels was asked how much his team would be affected by their departure. "Of course it bothers me," Wessels said. "It's also the example they set off the field that we'll miss."
And while Raina could bask in the satisfaction of a job well done, Nayar and Uthappa were left to reflect on a run chase that never quite got going till it was too late. Uthappa contributed 43, an innings that was immeasurably superior to the 48 that he made in Mumbai over the weekend. This time, he played the ball instead of premeditating almost every stroke. There were some lovely drives down the ground, and the cheeky deflections to third man were timed beautifully.
With Manpreet Gony and Joginder so impressive, it didn't hurt Chennai that P Amarnath and Jacob Oram both had shocking outings. In a five-over spell late on, Mumbai plundered 71, transforming a no-contest into an edge-of-the-seat humdinger. Nayar, whose level-headedness and maturity should take him a long way, nearly took the Indians past the line, but it was almost inevitable that the star of the last act would be Joginder, the domestic titan with chilled aqua pura running through his veins.