Chennai Super Kings soared to the top of the points table in dramatic fashion, recording their third consecutive win in a comprehensive defeat of Deccan Chargers at Buffalo Park. The game had everything: excellent swing that had Deccan reeling at 1 for 3, left-arm spin from Shadab Jakati that gave him his second consecutive four-wicket haul and ripped the heart out of Deccan's batting, and two whirlwind innings, one by Dwayne Smith that could only stave off the inevitable and another by MS Dhoni, at the start of the match, to set up the win. Much of that, and a dropped catch and a missed run-out, took place in a frenetic opening ten overs of Deccan's chase that had more twists, turns and frenetic passages of play than an entire Twenty20 match.
Deccan's win against their opponents in the previous encounter Durban was based on a powerful start from Adam Gilchrist and Herschelle Gibbs but the change in venue brought about a shocking change in fortunes as both departed for ducks. Gilchrist was trapped first ball bang in front of the stumps off a loopy delivery by Albie Morkel and Gibbs played all over a full delivery by Sudeep Tyagi and lost his legstump to a ricochet.
VVS Laxman, desperately seeking runs to keep his place in the side, soon fell to a tame chip to midwicket off Morkel. With three ducks at the top of the order, Deccan's line-up was already resembling a poultry farm - a procession of headless chickens was, one felt, another wicket away.
That it didn't come to that owed itself to some luck and then lots of bravado. A huge mis-hit from Smith when he was on 2 fell towards three waiting fielders but, inexplicably, landed safely; the following ball produced a thick leading edge that was fluffed by Tyagi at third man. What followed in the next couple of overs stung Chennai more than those missed chances.
Choosing attack as the best form of defence, Smith bludgeoned boundaries over the on side with tremendous bat speed. One over from Albie Morkel yielded 19 runs, including two sixes; one, off a high full toss, was hit over midwicket and the next ball was flicked squarer on the on side. The next over from L Balaji was hit for 18 with Rohit Sharma joining the party.
The average score for Chennai in the Powerplays - the highest for any team in the tournament
The average partnership between Adam Gilchrist and Herschelle Gibbs at the top of the Deccan Chargers innings
The percentage of runs hit by Gilchrist in boundaries
The number of golden ducks in the tournament
The number of runs put up by the Deccan batsmen, barring the partnership between Dwayne Smith and Rohit Sharma
Dhoni shuffled his bowlers and brought on Jakati when the 50 partnership came up in just 21 balls to try and make things happen. Things did happen, though not quite as Dhoni intended. First, Smith clubbed Jakati for a huge six into the grass embankment. In his next over Jakati got rid of Rohit before an amazing sequence that saw four - four run-out chances being fluffed off one ball. Smith hit it to deep point, Jakati couldn't collect the return, Badrinath backing up, threw it back to Jakati who again didn't collect the throw but broke the stumps with Smith and non-striker T Suman almost at the same end; Jakati then picked up the ball and tried to hand it to Badrinath, who had moved to the stumps but flicked it wide of him.
The bowler had his revenge the same over, though, when he trapped Smith in front for 49. That effectively ended Deccan's chase, the rest of the wickets a blur as the innings folded by the 15th over.
Chennai's win was built on their batting, though, as they won the toss and piled on a target which, by this tournament's standards, was way above par. Dhoni, having said before this match that his form was "pathetic", addressed the issue by promoting himself to No. 3 and the quality time spent in the middle helped recover his form.
The start provided by Matthew Hayden and M Vijay gave Chennai and Dhoni the impetus. Hayden feasted on some wayward bowling by biffing deliveries over the off side and walking down the pitch to set the bowlers off their rhythm. Suresh Raina matched Hayden in terms of power and intimidation. After Suman helped Deccan hit back with the wicket of Vijay, his figures were torn apart by Raina, who clubbed him for three consecutive boundaries over midwicket.
Dhoni was already well set at the crease and a six off Pragyan Ojha that landed on the roof at long-on was a sign of things to come. The tentativeness which affected his form in the earlier games was refreshingly absent as he kept busy at the cease, pushing the singles and bludgeoning the bowlers down the ground with his unconventional, yet powerful checked drives. He hammered Harris down the ground like a cannon and took on the same bowler for a reverse sweep that found the boundary. He reached his half-century with a savage pull off RP in the final over and led his team to a score that later exposed the shortcomings of the side heading the table when the match started. It ended, of course, with another team shooting to the top.