Vijay blasts Chennai to vital victory
The fear of an early elimination from the tournament drove Chennai Super Kings to deliver their best all-round performance, that too against one of the top teams in the tournament so far. Their propensity to choke despite being in a winning position, like against Kings XI Punjab, threatened to hurt them again in front of their home fans, but some late hitting from Suresh Raina complemented the solid foundation laid by his spinners and an attacking half-century by M Vijay. Chennai won with an over to spare and Royal Challengers Bangalore's 161 wasn't enough.
It was a game that Chennai were always likely to win, after restricting Bangalore to a par score. Teams with in-form local players have been more successful than those without and Vijay was the difference today. An aggressive batsman who rarely plays ungainly strokes, Vijay finally delivered after failing to convert his starts in the earlier games. He showed glimpses of his abilities during a cameo against Rajasthan Royals before a run out cut short his innings, but today he was determined to go one step further, sometimes two or three, stepping down the pitch and carting the bowlers without sacrificing his style.
Hayden, for once, had to ride on the passenger seat. At the end of three overs, he had faced just one ball for no runs. Vijay faced the other 17 and had already zipped to 37, 24 of those coming off a single over from Praveen Kumar. Vijay began with textbook boundaries, punching Praveen past cover and flicking Dale Steyn past square leg. Bangalore weren't prepared for the explosion in the third over when Vijay opened fire. A short delivery was hooked for six, a slower one was dismissed over wide long-on, a leg-side delivery was worked past short fine leg and a length ball was clipped over deep square leg. Vijay's footwork was complemented by his placement and a right dose of power.
A worried Anil Kumble brought himself on in the fourth over and immediately checked the scoring, cutting back on pace and cramping the batsmen for room. A subdued Hayden sashayed down the pitch and was foxed by a googly. Kumble had conceded just nine off his first two overs, but support wasn't forthcoming from the other end as the second spinner, Pietersen, got pasted.
Vijay, who had reached his fifty off 29 balls in the eighth over, thumped three sixes off Pietersen over the on side, using his feet on each occasion. However, an ambitious attempt at a fourth led to his dismissal, scooping to wide long-on, and it was a moment of relief for Bangalore. Kumble continued to strangle the scoring after Vijay's departure but a couple of quick wickets would have made it closer affair. Raina and MS Dhoni improvised, nudged balls in to the gaps and kept the asking-rate within manageable levels. But ambitious pulls from Dhoni and S Badrinath led to top edges and nearly altered the script. Raina, though, kept his cool and an inside-out scoop to a front foot no-ball from Vinay Kumar led to wild celebrations and relief in the Chennai camp.
It was Chennai's better bowling effort that set up the victory by preventing Bangalore from setting an impregnable target. Shadab Jakati said in an interview that the pitch was slow and had gripped. He and Muttiah Muralitharan conceded just 37 in eight overs.
A half-century partnership between Jacques Kallis and Virat Kohli set Bangalore up for something bigger after Robin Uthappa threatened during a cameo, aided by yet another dropped catch. The drop cost Chennai 21 runs, and it brought Kallis and Kohli together for a stand of 63 for the third wicket. They focused on keeping wickets in hand and kept dropping the ball to pick up singles against the spinners. Murali bowled round the wicket to keep Kallis in check and Jakati fired the quicker ones at the stumps.
The problem of full-tosses persisted for Chennai but ironically, it was that ball which helped break the partnership. Kohli chipped down the track to a full toss and scooped it straight to Vijay at long-on. It was the start of the best over the day, as Kallis tried to pinch a cheeky single to extra cover and was run out by a sharp pick up and throw by Raina. It turned out to be a double-wicket maiden for Chennai.
Chennai, however, undid the good work by letting Cameron White and Pietersen share a brisk stand of 44 in 4.3 overs. White wrecked Thilan Thushara's figures by making room and swatting him over the onside, before Pietersen walloped him over long off for a big six. The target of 162, as Kumble later said, was about 15 short of an ideal score. Bangalore remained at No.2 but Chennai moved up two spots to No.5.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo