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Talking Points - Raina's return to form has made up for Watson's struggles

Will Watson's poor form hurt Super Kings in the playoffs?

Sometimes, despite the best efforts by your team, your captain, your mates, that old form just doesn't come back.

Look at Shane Watson, so dominant once upon a time, but struggling to get the ball away all season in IPL 2019. You'd have expected him to run into some sort of form, not look like a struggling, stuttering rookie, at some stage, but that one innings of 96 (in 53 balls, against Sunrisers Hyderabad) aside, he just hasn't been able to get going. Part of the reason Chennai Super Kings, despite becoming the first team to qualify for the playoffs, have a really poor scoring rate in the Powerplay. As for Watson, when Sam Curran sent his off stump for a roll on Sunday afternoon, it was the tenth time he had been dismissed in the Powerplay this season - the most, one more than Delhi Capitals' Prithvi Shaw.

Watson knows he hasn't quite done it. "For me to miss out on not scoring runs for long as I had throughout the tournament if I had been in a previous team I would have been dropped a long time ago," he acknowledged after the 96.

With Super Kings and MS Dhoni, it's a known fact that they don't like making too many changes to their playing XIs. For them, if it ain't broke, even if struggles like Watson has, don't fix it.

The question, though, is: how will Watson's lack of form hurt Super Kings come the playoffs? They have found ways to paper over the crack so far. Can they keep doing it? And hope Watson makes a difference come the really big stage, like in the 2018 IPL final?

Unfortunately for Super Kings, Faf du Plessis hasn't been at his free-scoring best in the Powerplay this season either, but Suresh Raina has upped the ante for the team in the middle order. On the whole, though, it has fallen on the lower order to do most of the big-hitting.

Raina's return to form a big plus for Super Kings

But even as Watson has been disappointing, Raina has rediscovered his touch.

Raina is an IPL hero, and only twice in all these seasons has he failed to top 400 runs for a season - in 2015 and 2016. Of those, the first was for Super Kings, when he scored 374, while in 2016, he turned out for Gujarat Lions, and made 399. For a while this season, Raina was off the boil. But he has had four good outings in his last seven innings, including three half-centuries.

The starts haven't been ideal for Super Kings, but if Raina can keep doing what he has started to, Super Kings might not worry too much.

The du Plessis acceleration

Du Plessis, meanwhile, put up a bit of a masterclass in pacing a T20 innings, a lot like in 50-over games till some years ago, where the batsmen started slowly and then picked up pace as they went along. In the first 30 balls he faced, du Plessis had 42 runs - somewhat reflecting Super Kings' go-slow. But in the next 25 balls he faced, he scored 54 runs, hitting all four sixes in this period.

The end, though, was a bit messy. Curran, a ball after bowling a short slower delivery that was thwacked over cow corner for six, sent in the perfect yorker that clipped the stumps via a deflection from du Plessis' toes, leaving the batsman down on his hands and knees on the ground.

With playoff pressure gone, Rahul tees off in style

It was the KL Rahul we knew well, but might have forgotten about, the one that could combine silken grace with utter brutality at the start of a T20 innings.

Too often this season, for one reason or another, he has taken his time to get going, often batting long but not necessarily big. On Sunday, though, with not much to aim at in terms of Kings XI Punjab's future in the tournament, he opened up, playing the way he might have wanted to all season but didn't, or couldn't.

He took most of the strike against Harbhajan Singh, who has an excellent T20 record against Chris Gayle (the West Indian faced just three balls in the offie's first two overs), and slammed him for four sixes and three fours. The last of those sixes took Rahul to his half-century in just 19 balls - within four overs! He had done the same in Mohali early on in IPL 2018, then off 15 balls, against Delhi Capitals (then Daredevils).

"I've been holding myself back till the last game, because my role was different (this season) playing 20 overs and holding up one end," Rahul said at the end of the game. "But sometimes, you have to alter your game and play according to how the team wants. "Tonight, I was playing much more freely, my strike rate is much higher, but looking back at it from a personal and team point of view, my strike rate has dropped, but I have won more games for my team this year. You have to curb your shots at times, and if I had done that last year, we could have done better."

In the end, it was Harbhajan who sent Rahul back for a 36-ball 71. And then, next ball, accounted for Gayle for the sixth time in their T20 exchanges over the years.

Overall, Rahul, New Zealand's Luke Ronchi and Afghanistan's Hazratullah Zazai are the only men to have achieved this in T20 history, with Gayle the only other man to get there.

With inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman and Srinath Sripath