Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
Chennai Super Kings 173 for 3 (Gaikwad 75, du Plessis 56, Rashid 3-36) beat Sunrisers Hyderabad 171 for 3 (Pandey 61, Williamson 26*, Ngidi 2-35) by seven wickets
Four contrasting half-centuries told the story of the Chennai Super Kings' seven-wicket victory over the Sunrisers Hyderabad, with the victors climbing back to the top of the IPL 2021 points table. The vanquished, meanwhile, remained in last place.
David Warner chose to bat in the tournament's first game in Delhi, saying he did so "because we haven't done it yet", in an effort to change the Sunrisers' fortunes. However, a middling effort with the bat gave the team only a par total of 171 for 3. Warner himself scored a laboured half-century while the returning Manish Pandey made 61 off 46, but both left the strong feeling that some runs had been left out in the middle.
That was proven true when Ruturaj Gaikwad continued his resurgence with an incandescent 75 off 44 - not hitting a six but hitting 12 fours - while Faf du Plessis contributed a robust 56 off 38. Both the Super Kings' openers strike rates were far superior to those of the Sunrisers' half-centurions, and their stand set the game up for the Super Kings. Despite a Rashid Khan induced late wobble, the three-time IPL champions motored home in 18.3 overs.
Warner struggles, Pandey dawdles
Warner did score a fifty, but it was the slowest of his T20 career - he got there off his 50th ball. He also crossed 10,000 T20 runs, only the fourth man to do so, but both of these landmarks came in an innings he might not look back on too fondly. Warner didn't lack intent, but his timing was all awry. And when he did get some meaty shots away, they found the fielders as often as the gaps. Warner's frustration was visible through his innings, with self-recriminatory screams and angry swishes of the bat when he had failed to send the ball where he wanted to. He tried to go deep, tried to go straight, tried to go across the line, but that he ended up with 57 off 55 speaks of how little of what he tried worked.
At the other end, the returning Pandey was more fluent but, until the last tenth of his innings, Pandey didn't exhibit any sense of urgency, even with Warner noticeably struggling. Pandey was happy to nudge and tickle the ball around with the occasional boundary attempt. He was a lot more stable at the crease than Warner, but given Warner's inability to force the pace, there was a case for Pandey to be more adventurous. The duo added 106 runs for the second wicket, but took 13.5 overs to do so. Only three century partnerships in the IPL have been slower, and only one since 2017.
Williamson finishes in style
It fell to Kane Williamson to show there were no demons in the pitch or the bowling. Williamson stroked his way to 26* off 10 balls, somehow managing to score runs all around the park even though he was there for such a brief while. He had walked in at 128 for 2 in 17.1 overs, with ESPNcricinfo's Forecaster tool predicting a final tally of 156 at that point. It was Williamson's fireworks that pushed the total beyond 170, aided by a good finish from Kedar Jadhav against his old team - the duo put on 37 off the last 13 balls.
Gaikwad, du Plessis at it once again
The Sunrisers' top-order struggles were made more stark by the Super Kings' openers' ease. While Williamson had provided a brief sparkle, Gaikwad and du Plessis had an extended feast on a placid surface. They batted 13 overs,five balls fewer than the Pandey-Warner association, but their partnership was worth 129 runs to the latter's 106.
The Sunrisers bowlers weren't able to get any significant movement in the air or off the deck, and both Gaikwad and du Plessis got their drives flowing freely. The two complemented each other perfectly too: while Gaikwad took on the spin of J Suchith and Rashid Khan, du Plessis punished the pace trio of Sandeep Sharma, Khaleel Ahmed and Siddarth Kaul.
Gaikwad taking the attack to Khan was perhaps the most crucial byplay of the chase. Khan's four overs were always going to be the most crucial in the Sunrisers' defence, but Gaikwad neutralised that threat by taking full toll any time Khan erred. Three times in his second and third overs Khan dragged the ball short, and each time Gaikwad found the boundary.
Not that Khan bowled badly. On the contrary, he had his usual array of legbreaks, sliders and googlies operating despite some dew. And he showed just how potent he could be by first fizzing a legbreak past Gaikwad's forward-defensive push to knock back off stump, then getting Moeen Ali out on the slog with a wrong 'un, and immediately after pinning du Plessis in front with another googly. While he had ended up conceding 36 - Ali too followed the Gaikwad template in taking the attack to Khan - he still took three crucial wickets.
The speed and dominance of the opening partnership, however, meant that Khan's quota of overs were finished by the 15th over. His wickets meant the Super Kings' canter to victory slowed down, but it couldn't be stopped.
Faf du Plessis
Chennai Super Kings
Sunrisers vs Super Kings