Dhoni blasts Chennai to semi-finals
Chennai Super Kings 195 for 4 (Dhoni 54*, Badrinath 53, Raina 46) beat Kings XI Punjab 192 for 3 (Marsh 88*, Irfan 44*) by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A pumped-up MS Dhoni showed why he's one of the great finishers in the game, blasting 30 runs in the final two overs to ensure Chennai Super Kings would contest an IPL semi-final for the third season in a row. Chennai's chances seemed dim after Shaun Marsh's sparkling innings had powered Kings XI Punjab to a massive total, but meaty innings from Suresh Raina and S Badrinath set the stage for a Dhoni onslaught during a tense finish.
Punjab held the edge for most of the match, and going into the last two overs Chennai needed 29, a tough task even with Dhoni and Albie Morkel at the crease. Juan Theron had been a hero the last time the two teams met, but he couldn't save Punjab in Dharamsala.
The penultimate over, by Theron, started with two murderous hits for four from Dhoni, feasting on the length deliveries offered. He looked to repeat on the third ball, but a thick edge flew high and fast to wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara, who managed to get a glove on it. Theron kept it to singles for the rest of the over, leaving Chennai needing 16 off the last.
Irfan Pathan had bowled the last six deliveries against Chennai at the MA Chidambaram as well, and he had kept them to nine runs to push that match into a Super Over. This time, though, he didn't have a tailender like R Ashwin to bowl to; it was Dhoni, channeling the buccaneer spirit with which he made his name.
The first delivery was almost a yorker, but Dhoni managed to power it wide of long off for four. The next was a slower one that he top-edged, but it landed short of long off and Chennai were two runs closer. The match was effectively sealed off the third delivery: a monstrous hit over wide long on sent the ball out of the ground, reducing the equation to four off three. Dhoni finished it with another thrash over long on, and the famously cool captain let out a roar and then punched the side of the helmet as the adrenaline flowed and his team-mates raced from the dug-out in joy.
Chennai's pursuit got off to a horror start when Ramesh Powar's classic offspin bowling, tossing the ball up and keeping the pace down in un-Twenty20 fashion, accounted for the dangerous openers Matthew Hayden and M Vijay.
From 26 for 2 in the fifth over, it was Raina who ignited the chase in company of Badrinath, promoted ahead of Dhoni. At least 11 runs came off each of the next six overs as Raina waded into the Punjab attack. The sixes kept raining until he was dismissed in the 10th over with a beautifully-timed hit to sweeper cover, similar to his exit in the previous match against Delhi Daredevils.
Badrinath has had plenty of questions asked over his ability in limited-overs matches, and they resurfaced when he went scoreless for six deliveries after Raina's fall. He broke that spell with a clean hit over long-off and a paddle-scoop over fine leg for four. There were a couple of close lbw calls against Piyush Chawla, but he kept the boundaries coming so that by the time he was stumped for 53 in the 17th over, his strike-rate was touching 150. After he fell, it was all about Dhoni, as Punjab's inability to fire in yorkers hurt them yet again.
Punjab had looked set to close out a forgettable season with a consolation win after they had been sent in. Mahela Jayawardene's blistering cameo gave them a cracking start, and Sangakkara showed again that you could score at Twenty20 rate using orthodox cricketing strokes.
Marsh was content to let the Sri Lankan stars make most of the runs in the first half of the innings, but once Chennai hit back with the big wickets of Sangakkara and Yuvraj Singh in successive overs, he brought out the clean hitting that got him runs by the wagonload in the inaugural season.
He and Irfan amassed 99 runs in the last eight overs, and the Marsh blitz started with two sixes and two fours in six deliveries, during which he galloped from 39 to 58. A slog-sweep out of the stadium followed, and he clubbed Bollinger twice over the ropes in the 19th over.
Irfan racked up 15 in the final over but that proved pointless in a match which was characteristic of Kings XI Punjab's season: their batsmen piled on lots of runs but the limp bowling and awful fielding kept Sangakkara's men at the foot of the table for almost the entire tournament.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo