Chennai Super Kings 176 for 4 (Watson 96, Raina 38) beat Sunrisers Hyderabad 175 for 3 (Pandey 83*, Warner 57, Harbhajan 2-39) by six wickets
Rocking up to the IPL after being the most prolific run-scorer in the Pakistan Super League just prior, it had been a mild surprise to see Shane Watson slump so sharply in the yellow of Chennai Super Kings. He had gone without a fifty in his first ten innings of the season, but the sight of Sunrisers Hyderabad's bowlers, whom he had brutalised in last year's final with 117 off 57 balls, was enough to reawaken the instinct that has made him a prized T20 asset all over the world.
He didn't quite get three figures this time, falling just four short, but 96 off 53 balls was enough to ensure Super Kings recovered from a slow start - they only got off the mark off the 11th ball of the innings - to chase down Sunrisers' 175 with six wickets and one ball to spare.
Super Kings won the toss for the ninth time in eleven matches, and they put Sunrisers in. The early wicket of Johnny Bairstow came amid a slow start, and even though David Warner continued his form with another half-century, a strike rate of 126 meant he wasn't able to do enough damage for Sunrisers to post a total closer to 200. Manish Pandey picked up the slack, and finished unbeaten with 83 off 49, but Sunrisers struggled to find a weak link in the Super Kings bowling attack. Even though Sunrisers had seven wickets in the bank, the late acceleration that has become so vital in the IPL was largely absent from the later stages of their innings. An inconsistent bowling display and a resurgent Watson ensured the effort with the bat wasn't quite enough.
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Watson's struggles had caused debate over his place in the Super Kings starting eleven, but they kept faith in the veteran Australian. When he batted out a maiden over from Bhuvneshwar Kumar - Sunrisers' captain in the absence of Kane Williamson - to start the chase, it looked like today would be more of the same from the 37-year old. But Watson was just getting warmed up, and a six and four off Khaleel Ahmed in the fifth over were harbingers of a sleeping giant finally beginning to stir. Shakib went for a six soon after before Watson took a shine to Sandeep Sharma. Nineteen off the 12th over saw the asking rate slide dramatically, and an off-colour Rashid Khan was shown no mercy by Watson. In full flow all of a sudden, he smashed the 20-year old Afghan legspinner for two sixes and two fours in his last two overs. Soon after, the required rate was below six, and by the time Watson nicked off to the keeper, Chennai's job was all but done.
Chennai's bowling consistency
Harbhajan Singh and Deepak Chahar may have been the only ones to take wickets for Chennai, but other than that, all five bowlers posted strikingly similar figures. Each conceded between 30 and 39 runs, and the absence of one bowler Sunrisers could pick on showed in the later stages of their innings. Despite having several wickets in hand, there appeared no coherent plan with regards to approaching the final onslaught, with Super Kings' discipline shaving several runs off their target. Following Warner's dismissal, Vijay Shankar never could get going, leaving Pandey to fight a lone hand against a well-drilled bowling attack. It was, as we were to see soon, in stark contrast to Sunrisers' bowling effort…
Sunrisers' bowling struggles
In the past two games, Rashi Khan conceded a total of 40 runs in his allocated eight overs. Not once had he allowed more than 27 in an innings this season, but today would reduce all those numbers to rubble. With Watson rampant, Rashid went for - by his standards - a colossal 44 in his four as Sunrisers' saw their trump card neutralised comprehensively in the middle overs. To make matters worse, he wasn't their most expensive bowler, with Sandeep Sharma conceding 54 in 3.5. Despite a valiant effort by Bhuvneshwar, who conceded just 18 in his four overs, the profligacy from the rest of the attack meant defending a medium-sized total became a near-insurmountable task.