Matthew Hayden and Shane Warne. Sixty-nine Tests together, the last 12 of them wins, but today they would decide who'd win this IPL game and go to the top of the table. There could be only one winner, and on the night it was Hayden. Chasing 141 Chennai Super Kings were in for a tough one, with the pitch turning square and staying slow and Warne looking like pulling off something special. Hayden, though, attacked clinically, played like a workman in between those assaults, and ensured Chennai beat Rajasthan for the second time in this IPL. He had with him S Badrinath, who went from being a supporting act to a lead player towards the end.
The two teams seemed inseparable till Hayden's one-on-one with with Warne. A disciplined Chennai, with a varied attack and well captained, had kept Rajasthan down to a total that - at the half-way mark - they would have backed themselves to chase. But Rajasthan were equally disciplined, smart, and well led. In the first eight overs, they had limited Chennai to 49 for 2, including Suresh Raina's wicket. Yusuf Pathan was bowling big turners at 95kmph.
More importantly Hayden had faced just 15 of those 48 deliveries. Even more importantly Warne had bowled an over of dip, drift and break when Badrinath couldn't even lay bat to ball. In the ninth over Warne bowled to Hayden for the first time, throwing the first ball wide, which was called wide despite big turn. The next one was flighted wide again, and Hayden decided to reverse-sweep late but perfectly. He then walked down to Warne, as if the keeper was standing back, and got to the pitch and hit him flat over long-on.
That over may have got Chennai only 12 runs, but the statement that Hayden made was huge. Warne was playable again, the required run-rate came back within manageable proportions, and soon Badrinath became comfortable too.
It showed in how Badrinath overtook Hayden's pace in the 16th over, bowled by Shane Harwood. The first ball he scooped over fine leg for six, steered one wide of point for four, whipped another over fine leg, and then upper-cut one over the keeper. This was a man bracketed as a Test batsman yet improvising to each and every delivery of an over, and providing the final game-breaker. He had come a long way in one innings, from looking out of sorts against Warne to finishing the game off.
Warne finally got Hayden with a stumping down the leg side when Hayden walked down once again, but by then - in the 17th over - the game had been decided.
This was also a battle between the two best captains in this tournament. And they had set the tone by exchanging indirect sledges at the toss. Warne had a go at Chennai, saying they were not good chasers. Dhoni retorted, saying given his strong batting line-up, the Rajasthan batsmen would be under immense pressure to set a defendable total.
The Chennai bowlers did their bit in accentuating that pressure. Rajasthan struggled for momentum right from the start, when Albie Morkel struck in his first over - for the third time in three matches. Dhoni rotated his bowlers around smartly, using seven of them in first 10 overs, who gave away only five boundaries.
Swapnil Asnodkar and Graeme Smith added 53 in 50 balls, but there was no sense of restlessness because of the slow run-rate. The key moment came in the third quarter of the innings, when after both Asnodkar and Smith had wasted those slow starts, Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja looked to open up, hitting Shadab Jakati for a six each in the 14th over, but Chennai accounted for both of them in the next two overs.
Dhoni made two smart moves then - he brought in L Balaji from the other end, and let Jakati continue despite that over. Balaji, helped by a superb diving-in-front catch by Raina at point, accounted for Jadeja, and Jakati got Yusuf who went for a repeat of the six in the next over. Again this dismissal was made possible by smart work from Jacob Oram at the long-on boundary.
Dhoni went back to rotating his bowlers, the fielders stayed sharp, and Rajasthan struggled to get going again. Dhoni himself made two stumpings. Warne hit 21 off 11 deliveries to give Rajasthan something to bowl to. As far as the battle of captains goes, they were probably locked, but Dhoni was leading the better side on the night.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo