Chennai Super Kings all but ensured qualification for the playoffs, and took an important step towards ending in the crucial top two, with a win that withstood the odd scare from Delhi Daredevils, who were formally knocked out of the tournament even though they have two games to go. Chennai, with 16 points from 12 games, were at the top of the table, but Mumbai Indians (16) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (15) have an extra game in hand.
Delhi, missing the talismanic Virender Sehwag, were spirited through Varun Aaron and briefly through Naman Ojha, but they also kept up the noble IPL 2011 tradition of offering lives to the Chennai batsmen. However, it was MS Dhoni, who didn't enjoy any of that generosity, that provided Chennai with the big finish. Dhoni scored 63 off 31 balls and helped Chennai plunder 37 in the last two overs, and 109 in last 10. S Badrinath offered stability at the other end, scoring 55 off 43, providing a gentle reminder of his bumper Ranji season on the eve of selection for the West Indies tour.
In complete contrast was Dwayne Bravo's blinder to remove Colin Ingram after Ojha's 25 off 14 gave the chase early promise. Even as West Indies struggled in the Test over in Guyana, Bravo turned up with the ball too, to dismiss David Warner, and at 64 for 3, effectively ending the chase.
It will just be a footnote on the evening, but the man whose state doesn't even have a Ranji team deserves a mention. Aaron, who plays for Jharkhand, filled the size 12s of Morne Morkel admirably, troubling the ominous-looking Suresh Raina and M Vijay with pace and bounce. His final figures of 1 for 20 included a dropped catch and a 12-run last over.
Aaron began with a two-run fourth over to rein in the quick start. In the sixth, he got Raina to top-edge a hook, and should have had Vijay in the same over, but Delhi captain James Hopes missed a tough chance at cover. Vijay enjoyed another life at the same score, but couldn't make those drops count. At 67 for 3 in the 11th over, Dhoni took control of the game with a counterattack, moving to 14 off five balls with a four off Ajit Agarkar, followed by a four and a six off Andrew McDonald. Aaron pulled things back with a three-run 14th over in which he troubled Badrinath. In the next over, however, Ojha missed a stumping chance off Badrinath, who was 28 off 27 then.
Following that, Dhoni - and later Badri - tucked into the bowling. There was power, and there was also cheek when Dhoni moved across and paddled Agarkar fine of short fine leg. Real punishment was reserved for the last two overs, bowled by Agarkar and the otherwise-economical Irfan Pathan. Agarkar missed his yorkers, and Badri hit his two low full tosses for a four and a six. Dhoni was deceived by a slower ball, but still managed to send it over extra cover.
Irfan began the 20th over well, at one point he even had respectable figures of 3.4-0-28-1. Then Dhoni unfurled two flat sixes off the last two balls, both full tosses, to end the innings with an exclamation mark.
Ojha began a promising chase, but he had to take too many risks on account of the steep asking rate, and perished in the third over. Chennai's attack, much better suited to the spin-friendly conditions, put the squeeze on, and then Bravo flew at point to send Ingram back. Soon, Warner, feeling the pressure a 25-ball 21 brings, pulled the same man to deep square leg. Venugopal Rao and Irfan Pathan then only delayed the inevitable.