Leaving a big void: Chennai's batting doesn't inspire the same fear as it did with Hayden, Hussey and Oram (file photo) © Getty Images
 

Term it whatever you want - the law of averages, or an off day - but Chennai slumped to their lowest score after their batting order had taken a severe hit. They were shorn of three first-choice overseas players: their two highest runs-scorers, Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey, and an allrounder, Jacob Oram and the loss of this formidable trio eventually hurt.

A strong batting performance against a bowling attack led by Glenn McGrath and Mohammad Asif would have boosted their confidence but they will now have to wait until Sunday, when they travel to Jaipur to take on Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals, to gain that belief.

What the exodus has done to Chennai is erode their primary strength - the batting order. Delhi and Rajasthan, who are level with Chennai on four wins each, have bowling attacks to boast about but Chennai has largely ridden on its batting. Hayden and Co. have posted targets of over 200 twice so far, giving the bowlers the upper hand.

Perhaps the replacements Stephen Fleming, S Vidyut and Albie Morkel just need time to get going. Vidyut, in fact, impressed with 54 off 37 balls on debut. His innings helped set a platform of sorts for Chennai were 102 for 2 in the 12th over and in a position to push for a score in excess of 169. However, watching the top order bat today inspired little confidence, certainly not as much as Hayden did, and the run flow was primarily due to a flurry of edges that fell safely behind square on both sides of the wicket.

Fleming is bound to improve on his performance today, where he began slowly before cashing in on consecutive free hits against Yomahesh but he's hardly going to intimidate bowlers like Hayden does with his muscular walk down the pitch followed by a powerful swat between midwicket and mid-on.

Hussey, who was able to accumulate runs inconspicuously at a healthy strike-rate, and Hayden will be missed because they were able to bat lengthy periods and sustain aggression. Oram hasn't had much of a role to play with the bat so far but his boundary-clearing abilities are proven and perhaps matched only by Dhoni in the Chennai outfit.

What Chennai have to come to terms with for future matches is that they are now on a far more level playing field. When the tournament started their batting was far superior to most other franchises but they are now on par with most others.

Moreover, their bowling attack hasn't been the most economical in the tournament and, Murali apart, has a fast-medium sameness to it. Winning matches could get much harder for Chennai henceforth and the way their exceptional start to the tournament could prove to be the difference as the league stage approaches its business end.

George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo