Chennai Super Kings 205 for 5 (Billings 56, Watson 42) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 202 for 6 (Russell 88*) by five wickets
In a nutshell
A chaotic start welcomed Chennai Super Kings back to the MA Chidambaram Stadium: protests and a delayed toss due to the late arrival of match officials. The end was even more frenetic, as Super Kings hunted down 17 off the final over, bowled by Vinay Kumar, to edge a high-scoring thriller and keep the IPL's trend of successful chases this season alive.
Chasing 203 after Andre Russell blitzed 88 off 36 balls, the highest score by a No. 7 batsman or lower in the IPL, Super Kings' pursuit ebbed and flowed until the final over. Super Kings were given an imperative, rapid start by Shane Watson and Ambati Rayudu, whose 75-run opening stand off 35 balls brought the voice of a subdued home crowd back. Then MS Dhoni's 25 off 28 pushed Knight Riders ahead once more as the required rate soared.
Eventually, the innings that gave Super Kings a chance came from Sam Billings. His strength is against pace, so he bided his time against Knight Riders' spinners, using his feet and tucking twos into large gaps. Off the seamers, he pulled, drove and scooped his way to a 23-ball 56, his fastest T20 half-century, but holed out in the penultimate over.
Then the final over. Vinay's first ball, a full toss on leg stump that was questionably deemed a no-ball for height, was swung away over fine leg for six by Dwayne Bravo. Off the penultimate delivery, Ravindra Jadeja thumped a six over long-on to complete another stunning come-from-behind win for Super Kings.
Boundaries, wickets or both?
Given their personnel and the roles assigned, Knight Riders have set their template for the season: attack from the outset and don't let wickets get in the way too much. The trend is already discernible. At the end of the Powerplay in their first game, against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Knight Riders were 68 for 2. At the same point against Super Kings, they were 64 for 2. After nine overs in the previous game, Knight Riders were 92 for 3. In this game, they were 87 for 4.
The top three of Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine and Robin Uthappa scored a combined 63 runs off 36 balls against Super Kings. The approach of attempting to score boundaries despite losing wickets is fraught with risk, but it has worked for Knight Riders twice in two games.
In Russell's hitting arc
Russell had a strike rate of 128 and a dot-ball percentage of 43 against legspinners in T20s, prior to Tuesday. So, it wasn't surprising that Imran Tahir was brought on immediately after Russell came in. He conceded five runs off eight balls against Russell.
With the main threat seen out, Russell feasted on Super Kings' fast bowlers, who either had the wrong plan or missed their execution too often. As the bowlers repeatedly erred too full, Russell teed up the straight boundaries. Russell's most productive hitting area was straight: he scored 50 runs off 15 balls between long-off and long-on. Overall, 84 of his 88 runs came in front of square on both sides. Off full balls, he scored 52 runs off 15 balls, at a strike rate of 346.7. His eventual smart strike rate of 347.22 over a 36-ball innings was a just indicator of the the impact of his blitz. In all, he hit 11 sixes out of 31 in the match - that is the joint-highest match tally in the tournament's history.
Pacing a tough chase
Without a strong start in a 200-plus chase, the probability of getting close to the target reduces drastically. During the course of such a chase, wickets further bump up the required rate. So, against a strong bowling attack, the only chance Super Kings had was if their openers started aggressively.
Shane Watson hit 42 off 19 balls, with three fours and three sixes, at a smart strike rate of 278.69 compared to his actual strike rate of 221.05. Ambati Rayudu kept abreast with Watson for the entirety of the Powerplay, adding 39 off 26 balls. Together, their partnership compensated for a stuttering Dhoni innings to give Super Kings a chance in a tough chase.