In a demonstration of power-hitting with which he carried Chennai Super Kings in the first IPL, Suresh Raina again showed his ability to dominate and, when the need arose, get out of a jam. Chennai were in early trouble after being put in to bat but the early loss of the openers to Shane Warne's introduction of spin didn't deter Raina, who dispatched the Rajasthan Royals attack to all parts of SuperSport Park. His one-man show was complemented by a disciplined and enthusiastic fielding display - including a wicket and two catches to the man of the moment - and Chennai wrapped up victory by 38 runs.
The spade work for victory had been done with a gem from Raina. His blazing innings started and ended in the face of adversary but it didn't show on his face or in his choice of shots. Chennai had lost their leading run-scorer, Matthew Hayden, and Parthiv Patel to loose shots against Yusuf Pathan, who opened the attack with Dimitri Mascarenhas. But after that edgy start Chennai were put back on track through a 67-run liaison between Raina and S Badrinath. Raina was due a good score and he decided attack was the best way of defence.
He took the initiative early on, taking Mascarenhas for four and six and then clubbing Yusuf over long-off for six more. Badrinath was promoted ahead of MS Dhoni, Jacob Oram and Albie Morkel with Chennai in trouble and he reciprocated with a smart cameo of 29. He relieved the pressure with three off-side boundaries and hit Yusuf out of the attack. Badri's inventiveness - making room, getting the wrists into play, lofting over the infield - allowed Raina to continue blazing and he carved a brilliant front-foot six over point off Munaf Patel's first delivery.
Once he found his tempo, Raina was unstoppable. A deft tickle for four off Siddharth Trivedi was one for the purists, a thick inside-edge next ball for the same result just the bit of luck Raina needed to script an epic. He continued to produce punishing pulls and gorgeous shots down the ground, but the slice over cover-point was the sight of the evening. Shane Warne was pulled and cut for boundaries in his first over as Raina reached fifty from 27 balls.
By now the mood in both camps had reversed. Rajasthan's early momentum faded into repeated misfields that allowed boundaries, and where Chennai had been unsure with the bat at the start, Badrinath was uppercutting for four. There were risks, but they were calculated. The fifty-run partnership needed just 33 deliveries.
Rajasthan took two wickets shortly after the break but with Dhoni giving him strike, Raina broke the shackles with consecutive boundaries in the 17th over. The run rate had now crossed seven and increased with consecutive sixes, both sliced over covers, in a 24-run 18th over during which Kamran Khan had to limp off with a twisted ankle. In the last over Raina raised his bat on 98, when the electronic scoreboard got it wrong after he slapped four past cover. Next ball was slashed up in the air and excellently taken by Graeme Smith at deep backward point. The only batsman to cross 30, Raina's exemplary 98 off 55 balls lifted Chennai to a competitive total.
That innings not only gave the crowd something to cheer about but also gave Chennai's bowlers a solid platform to work with. A revamped new-ball attack of Morkel and Sudeep Tyagi kept it tidy and waited for errors, which came rather soon. Smith's vigilance had played a big role in the last game but here he was impetuous, reaching out and guiding Morkel to point in the second over. Swapnil Asnodkar was another to fall going for a big shot, except that he swung his bat down onto his own stumps.
As if his innings wasn't torture enough for Rajasthan, Raina starred with the ball. Rob Quiney was given a life when Dhoni fluffed a stumping, but the bowler had his revenge when he beat bat with a slider.
Yusuf came out blazing but failed to convert, lofting L Balaji down to long-off where the man who could do no wrong took the catch. Dhoni held back on using Balaji till the 11th over and the bowler immediately made an impact, not allowing any room. When Ravindra Jadeja skied Balaji miles into the starry night and Hayden settled under a steepler, the candle had gone out. The rest was a formality as Balaji took four, a solid comeback after a poor last match.
It was apt that the last wicket, a massive top edge, should land in Raina's hands. His grip remained firm from start to finish.