Mahendra Singh Dhoni lost the toss but everything else went right for his team, beginning with some tight bowling, as the Chennai Super Kings won the match against the Deccan Chargers and a spot in the semi-finals at the expense of the Mumbai Indians. Chennai will face Kings XI Punjab, whom they have defeated twice in the league games, in one semi-final, while Rajasthan Royals take on Delhi Daredevils in the other.
Chennai had conceded 211 against Rajasthan in their previous game but the bowlers were up to the task this time as Deccan's final attempt to win at home win went awry. Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs and Shahid Afridi made a combined total of 14 runs, and though Venugopal Rao and Ravi Teja propped them up to 147, it wasn't enough. Chennai had an early wobble, but Suresh Raina, who came in to bat in the fourth over, steered them home with an unbeaten 54.
Chennai's opening bowlers were on the mark from the start: Makhaya Ntini bowled with pace and got good bounce and carry, while Manpreet Gony, the team's leading wicket-taker, stuck to an impeccable length on off stump and bowled through his four overs for 21. And they reaped the rewards soon, as both Gibbs and Gilchrist found the fielder at third man - Gibbs with a slash, and Gilchrist with a thick outside-edge.
Deccan's early runs came mainly in singles and Scott Styris, who has had a terrible tournament, seemed to be getting into rhythm with boundaries in the arc between midwicket and mid-on till he was bowled by Muttiah Muralitharan while trying to hit one across. At 57 for 3 after 10.1 overs, Deccan needed a partnership and Rao and Teja came up with a 76-run stand that lent respectability to the eventual total. Muralitharan was hard to get away but the two went after Balaji in the 14th over, which cost 14.
They managed to up the run-rate with a boundary every over, and Rao, often at the centre of Deccan's rearguard actions, hit one to bring up the 100 in the 16th over. There was a flurry of runs in the 18th as well, as Teja slashed one high into the stands off Ntini in an over which cost 15. That he still ended with figures of 1 for 24 off his four indicated just how frugal he was in his first three overs.
That burst was followed by a flurry of wickets, including three - one of them a run-out - in three balls in the 19th. The crowd had chanted Afridi's name but he lasted two balls as Deccan limped to 147.
Deccan, and Mumbai, needed a wicket early and RP Singh nearly got the breakthrough as Stephen Fleming fended at one that swung away, but both Gilchrist and Styris were late to react. Fleming and his fellow left-hand opener Parthiv Patel cashed in when the bowlers erred: short and wide deliveries were dispatched for fours. P Vijaykumar then decided to go round the wicket, and it worked, as Fleming got a thick outside-edge while trying to force a drive through the covers.
In came Raina and he soon found his rhythm, slapping one riskily in the air through the covers, before punching one through the same region. Afridi was brought into the attack as early as the fifth over, and he put a brake on the scoring. At the other end, Raina got consecutive boundaries in Sarvesh Kumar's first over, but the pressure applied from Afridi worked as Parthiv played straight to cover in Sarvesh's next, Afridi taking the catch.
Raina was joined by Dhoni, and the 55-run stand between the two put Chennai on course for victory. Dhoni started with two streaky boundaries - he hit one straight to Sarvesh first-up, who fluffed a chance, and followed with a thick outside-edge which flew to the third-man boundary. With left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and Styris managing to curb the runs, Dhoni decided to take a few risks. He stepped out to deposit Ojha over long-on, and after a miscued pull nearly landed in Gibbs' hands at midwicket, he cut Styris for four. Afridi came back with 52 needed off 42 balls, and Dhoni hit one dead-straight for four, before Raina powered a shorter delivery over midwicket for six.
Chennai were cruising towards the target, but had a brief wobble after Dhoni found Gibbs at long-on. That Ojha over, the 16th, went just for three, and when Styris conceded the same in the next, Chennai were left needing 28 off 18. Another tight over and Deccan could have still been in the hunt, but Raina found the gap at midwicket as Ojha bowled a full toss. He was dropped by RP in the 19th over, and hit the winning six - which brought up his fifty - as Chennai reached their target with four balls to spare.
While Dhoni and Co were relieved and celebrated the win, Gilchrist looked ahead after a disastrous first season, in which last-placed Deccan won just two of their 14 games. "I do not have any excuses. It depends which way you look it.," he said. "It's not end of the world. We should settle down, make a self-assessment and think over where we went wrong and plan for the future."
Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo