Inspired Chennai send Punjab packing
An inspired Chennai Super Kings shrugged off the underdogs' tag with a comprehensive display to thrash Kings XI Punjab by nine wickets and join Rajasthan Royals in the IPL final. Punjab's batting had been in superb form through most of the tournament, but they came unstuck in the face of some accurate and relentless seam bowling by Chennai's three fast bowlers, folding for a paltry 112. Parthiv Patel and Suresh Raina then ensured that the run-chase was a canter, putting together 102 for the second wicket - both ended on unbeaten half-centuries as Chennai sailed home with 31 deliveries to spare.
Punjab's two previous losses to Chennai, in the league games, had both come when they'd chased, and Yuvraj Singh did the team a huge favour by winning the toss and choosing to bat on a pitch which was expected to assist the spinners later in the evening. That, though, was the only thing that went right for Punjab, as Makhaya Ntini and Manpreet Gony struck twice each in their first spells and reduced Punjab to 40 for 5. They never released the pressure thereafter as the Wankhede Stadium played host to the second one-sided semi-final in two days.
On a pitch offering generous bounce to the fast bowlers, Chennai's pace attack of Ntini, Gony and Albie Morkel bowled in the perfect channel, denying the Punjab batsmen any room to execute strokes through the off side. Learning from Shane Watson's spell on Friday, Ntini pitched it slightly short of a length, hit the bat hard, and hurried the batsmen in their shots, while Gony bowled a fuller length, and with the sort of control which would have made Glenn McGrath proud - the seventh over of the innings gave him his third maiden of the tournament, the most by any bowler. Chennai were also superb in the field - Muttiah Muralitharan pulled off a splendid catch over his head to intercept a Yuvraj pull, Suresh Raina was equally spectacular in plucking a diving catch to dismiss Wilkin Mota, while the ground fielding was blemishless.
There was little sign of such a dramatic collapse when Shaun Marsh stroked the first ball of the match - from Muralitharan, surprisingly - through the covers for four. Seven came off that over, but the wheels started coming off in the next over, when James Hopes slashed at a wide one from Ntini and edged to Parthiv.
That dismissal sparked off a procession of wickets, as three more fell in the next four overs. Kumar Sangakkara's was the most unusual, as he seemed to miss a drive off Gony, but walked off even though Parthiv didn't appeal at all. Yuvraj was restless after playing out three successive dot balls and pulled to Murali at short midwicket, but the biggest blow was delivered in the next over, when Ntini hit back to dismiss Marsh immediately after being creamed for a perfect straight drive. Marsh had top-edged a pull for six earlier in the innings, but wasn't as lucky in the sixth over, as the inside edge crashed into his stumps.
Clearly rattled by the early wickets, Punjab lost the plot with some terrible running between the wickets, which cost Irfan Pathan his wicket. Mahela Jayawardene stroked the ball to third man, ran two, started for the third and then changed his mind, leaving Pathan with too little time to gain his ground. When Jayawardene himself fell next over, steering to the wicketkeeper, Punjab had slumped to 45 for 6.
From there, it was only an exercise in damage control: Mota and Ramesh Powar - the two local Mumbai players - put together 35, easily the most productive partnership of the innings. Mota managed a useful 26-ball 25, while Powar smeared Morkel for a huge six over midwicket and then punished a listless L Balaji for three fours in the last over, but a target of 113 was hardly enough to test Chennai.
S Vidyut fell early, but Raina and Parthiv gave Punjab no further opportunity. Raina was in especially sublime touch - he started off with two delectable fours, adjusting to Powar's turn and gliding a four to third man, and then cutting the next ball through point. As he grew in confidence, the ferocity of the strokes increased, and the high point was an incredible pull off Hopes - on a pitch where most batsmen struggled to ride the bounce and execute the stroke - which sailed onto the roof of the stadium. Pathan was similarly dismissed over square leg, while Chawla was slog-swept for six and then driven through extra cover in the last over as Raina brought up his fifty off 32 balls.
Parthiv was slightly more subdued, but the paltry target gave him plenty of time to work with. He started slowly, but then a couple of superb straight hits off the fast bowlers, and powerful sweeps off the spinners. Pathan's early swing with the new ball offered Punjab some hope, but once Chennai got past that threat, there was little the slower bowlers could do.
Chennai lost both their league games against Rajasthan, but after such an emphatic win, that will hardly bother them.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo