Chennai Super Kings 150 for 2 (Gaikwad 65*, Rayudu 39) beat Royal Challengers Bangalore 145 for 6 (Kohli 50, de Villiers 39, Curran 3-19, Chahar 2-31) by eight wickets
The Chennai Super Kings built a squad for the slow, turning pitches at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. On Sunday, when they were all but out of IPL 2020, they got to play in conditions not dissimilar to those back in Chennai, and pulled off a performance that made you wonder how their season might have gone had Covid-19 not transplanted the tournament to the UAE.
They were abetted by a Royal Challengers Bangalore batting display that seldom got out of second gear, which set them a target of just 146, but some of the hallmarks of the classic Super Kings performance were also on show. Accurate medium-fast bowling with frequent changes of pace, an expert middle-overs strangulation by spin featuring typically clever MS Dhoni fields, and a controlled chase featuring timely six-hitting to keep the required rate in check. There was also, as has often been the case, an opposition attack that wasn't entirely suited to the conditions.
Along the way, there was even one unusual detail, a young player who batted with - let's use the word - spark, Ruturaj Gaikwad, who anchored the chase with an unbeaten 51-ball 65 while Faf du Plessis and Ambati Rayudu brought urgency at the other end.
With their eight-wicket win, the Super Kings kept the barely flickering flame of their campaign alive, just about, but the result might have more of an impact on the Royal Challengers. They began the game with a chance of rising to the top of the table and ended it with their chances of a top-two finish significantly diminished.
A brisk beginning
Choosing to bat, the Royal Challengers made just the kind of start they would have wanted on a slow pitch, with Aaron Finch and Devdutt Padikkal showing every intention to maximise their returns when the ball was at its newest. They hit three fours and a six in the first three overs before Sam Curran came on and made a vital intervention, both in terms of immediate and longer-term impact, getting Finch out with a slower delivery.
Padikkal hit two more opportunistic leg-side fours in the next two overs, helping the Royal Challengers end the powerplay at 46 for 1, before falling to the first ball of the seventh over, going after the left-arm spin of Mitchell Santner - who was playing his first game of the season - but failing to clear long-on.
Kohli and de Villiers
Those two names can give anyone the shivers if they're together for 68 balls, but on this day, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers only put on 82 off those 68 balls. This was partly down to intent - there's a case to be made that de Villiers coming in as early as the seventh over causes him to bat more watchfully than he might if he enters in the second half of the innings - partly down to the slowness of the pitch, and partly down to some smart spin bowling from Santner, Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja.
The Royal Challengers faced some flak for promoting two left-handers above de Villiers against Kings XI Punjab ten days ago but the thinking behind the move wasn't entirely unsound, even if it failed to come off that day. Today, with the Super Kings attack featuring three international-class spinners who all turn the ball away from the right-hander, there may have been more of a case to push a left-hander up the order, particularly given that the Royal Challengers had an excellent candidate for that role today in Moeen Ali.
They didn't choose that option, and backed de Villiers instead. It was a perfectly reasonable choice, of course, but it didn't come off today, as the three spinners got into their groove, bowling just short of a length at a good pace and not giving away the drive.
Against Kohli, Dhoni exaggerated the effectiveness of this mode of attack by placing a straight midwicket and a straight extra-cover (almost a short mid-off) to prevent easy singles down to long-on and long-off. Kohli, not a natural sweeper, didn't look to hit squarer to evade these fielders, and kept backing his ability down the ground. It brought him a six and a four, but they were the only boundaries in his innings, and it also brought Tahir and Jadeja difficult caught-and-bowled chances that they put down.
When a becalmed de Villiers holed out for a 39 off 36, the Royal Challengers were 128 for 3 in 17.3 overs, and the death-overs flourish they'd been building towards didn't happen. Deepak Chahar and Curran varied their pace well and offered no drive balls or width, conceding just 20 off the last three overs while dismissing de Villiers, Moeen, Kohli and Chris Morris.
Pace onto the bat
Chahar, Curran and Monu Singh - who made his debut for the Super Kings in his third season with the franchise - are all medium-fast at best, and on this pitch bowled plenty of slower balls as well.
Morris, Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini are all genuine quicks, and they didn't vary their pace as much as their Super Kings counterparts did today. Kohli picked this out as a key differentiator between the two sides at the post-match presentation, and the economy rates of the Royal Challengers told a story.
The three Super Kings seamers between them conceded 70 in nine overs. The three Royal Challengers quicks conceded 84 in 8.4 overs, despite Saini bowling two quiet overs to Dhoni towards the end of the game.
But as much as pace onto the bat helped the Super Kings batsmen, they still needed to put it away. Du Plessis used the pace brilliantly early on, picking up two fours and a six in the fine-leg region, off Morris and Siraj. Gaikwad, meanwhile, used his feet well against both spin and seam to get to the pitch and hit over the infield. By the end of the powerplay, the Super Kings were 48 for 1 with du Plessis out to Morris.
Rayudu and Gaikwad seal the deal
The momentum didn't go away with the wicket, as Gaikwad continued to use his feet to launch Moeen for a big six over long-off, and Rayudu clattered a six and a four in an erratic tenth over in which Saini kept bowling short and wide. A typical Rayudu charge down the wicket at the end of the 12th over, to smack Siraj over long-on, brought the equation down to 41 off 48.
The Super Kings were never going to lose from there, but there was a case for them to promote one of their hitters in Curran, Santner or Jadeja at the fall of Rayudu's wicket - when they needed 33 off 39 - to improve their net run rate further. Dhoni came in instead, and finished with an unbeaten 19 off 21 as the Super Kings wrapped it up with eight balls to spare.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo