Chennai Braves 114 for 0 (Rajapaksa 55*, Shahzad 54*) beat Northern Warriors 108 (Bopara 2-6) by ten wickets
Eleven days and 26 games later, the Chennai Braves finally got themselves their first win of the Abu Dhabi T10, at the ninth time of asking.
"Better late than never," as player of the match, Bhanuka Rajapaksa said post-match. They had the Sri Lankan to thank as he notched up his third half-century of the tournament with 55 not out off just 23 deliveries. Alongside the always-entertaining Mohammad Shahzad, who hit 54 not out off 29 balls, the pair ensured that the Braves got their first points on the board.
Of course, it was all a little too late. After eight consecutive defeats, the Braves looked all but destined to end their first experience at the Abu Dhabi T10 without a win to their name. Without Nicholas Pooran - their icon player - throughout the tournament, the Braves have lacked match-winners and an injury to Yusuf Pathan certainly didn't help.
Angelo Perera, handed the captaincy midway through the tournament, praised two of their more experienced players in Ravi Bopara and Munaf Patel for orchestrating their win, as Northern Warriors were bowled out for 108. It was the first time that the Braves had managed to take more than five wickets in an innings.
From the moment Curtis Campher trapped the devastating Kennar Lewis for a golden duck, the Braves looked like a team determined to end their hoodoo thus far. Campher had Moeen Ali caught at deep backward square leg, just as he was getting going and despite the tournament top scorer, Rovman Powell smashing young Englishman, Roman Walker, for three sixes in the seventh over, Shanaka got the West Indian in the next, Powell sending one straight to Campher in the deep.
With the very next ball, Shanaka dismissed Umair Ali and after Bopara picked up two wickets in the penultimate over. It was left to Dhananjaya Lakshan to get rid of Imran Tahir, before Oshane Thomas was run out with a ball to spare.
"A lot of credit goes to the bowling unit and also, we had a good outing in the field," said Perera. "Yes, it was frustrating [to be winless], but today we had a different plan and Ravi and Munaf took the responsibility of talking to the bowlers and their experience has shown today. I think they executed the plan really well."
In their previous three matches, the Braves had managed totals of 107, 89 & 57, so chasing 109 was never going to be a walk in the park. However Rajapaksa and Shahzad got the job done in style. After a tight first over from Tahir, Shahzad let loose with five boundaries off Abhimanyu Mithun in the second. Together, the pair picked away at the total, sucking the energy out of the Warriors - who knew that they also had no chance of progressing to the play-offs.
There was still 21 needed off three overs when Oshane Thomas was brought back into the attack. Thomas has had a fascinating tournament thus far, picking up the only hat-trick of the T10 in his first game, before returning the worst figures in T10 history with 0 for 50 in his two overs against Team Abu Dhabi. Yet, he came back from that, with three wickets the following night against the Deccan Gladiators.
However, Rajapaksa ensured that this was another night to forget for the West Indian, who after getting run-out for a duck, was dispatched by the Sri Lankan for 20 in his second over. With a majestic drive over the sweeper cover, the 30-year-old brought up his fifty in style.
And it was left for Shahzad to bring up his half-century too with a six, which also sealed the win. Between them, the pair hit 15 fours and six sixes and at long last, the Chennai outfit had some points on the table and something to shout about.
"When I was batting with Shazy [Shahzad], I can't really run so it's really a case of see ball, hit ball," said Rajapaksa. "I guess it worked tonight!"
As the league stage of the tournament comes to a conclusion with just four games remaining, the four play-off spots have already been decided. Team Abu Dhabi, Deccan Gladiators, Bangla Tigers and Delhi Bulls will make up the sides ready to battle it out over two play-off days on Friday and Saturday. It remains to be seen which two sides will finish as the top two and thus have two bites of the cherry, as they look to make the final of the Abu Dhabi T10.
In the earlier game, Liam Livingstone smashed a brutal 59 off 24 to help Team Abu Dhabi reclaim top spot, as they edged out Deccan Gladiators by eight runs.