To watch Chennai Super Kings go about their business is to watch a group of fearless acrobats. Or a bunch of polished, eagle-eyed accountants. Or probably both. To watch it through the eyes of M Vijay is to capture the images seen by an insider. Vijay and two of his colleagues - captain George Bailey and Wriddhiman Saha - have been Super Kings in the past. They know how things work here.
Vijay, fielding at long on, is at the receiving end of some affection from the crowd. He is the local boy after all. In the 16th over, MS Dhoni pushes the ball towards him and turns around for the second, daring Vijay to run him out.
Vijay can't prevent Dhoni. Neither can he stop the crowd's roar from going a higher gear, much louder than the cheers they had reserved for him. Vijay watches Dhoni take on Mitchell Johnson the next ball. The latter homes in on the ball quickly enough, but his wide throw isn't gathered and Dhoni steals another double.
Vijay has already seen Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith tear into Kings XI Punjab's bowling. He has seen Johnson drop McCullum and Raina. Now he sees Dhoni and Raina, and later Ravindra Jadeja run his team ragged. But he hasn't seen it all just yet.
Walking out to bat, Vijay is greeted cheerfully by Super Kings' designated goodwill ambassador Raina. Given their all-consuming intensity on the field, however, Vijay might have well felt like a gangster, who has shifted to the rival camp, locked in a one-on-many combat with his old mates. Dhoni, meanwhile, is trigger-happy with his field placements. He shuffles his men at least thrice in the first over.
First, he banishes Raina from the second slip and puts him at covers. Then he has two men populating the short third-man region. By the time the sixth ball is bowled, Virender Sehwag has chipped one straight to mid off.
Ashish Nehra comes on at the other end. Vijay drives him through covers for four. Nehra turns to the slower ball soon after. Vijay, misreading it, plays an uppish drive. Safe. Raina & Co. are running to Nehra and clapping away loudly. Nehra has a devilish grin, Vijay a sheepish one.
Vijay manages to cream a four and a six the next over, but the tap will soon run dry. In the sixth over, Nehra strikes Shaun Marsh on the pads, and appeals. Nay, roars for lbw. The crowd roars with him. Given. Eleven men in yellow wrap one another in clumsily coordinated hugs.
Jadeja comes on and has Bailey edging behind. Dhoni leaps in delight. Jadeja has already sprinted away, with his equally delirious team-mates in pursuit. Vijay can only watch.
Meanwhile, Ashwin has pulled off a brilliant save in the slips, falling heavily to his left. Dhoni bangs his gloves in appreciation. Raina runs in from cover to slap Ashwin's back. There is searing energy everywhere, the frightening pack-like mentality Vijay is all too familiar with.
Faf du Plessis is hurling himself on the field when he is not manically chasing a boundary-bound ball. Even Nehra is putting in the dives. It feels like the entire team has hovered around the batsmen, making them gasp for breath, and seek an escape route.
Vijay can only watch. In awe. In helplessness. There is the familiar offbeat field-placement that Dhoni has patented. In comes Raina at leg slip. Jadeja fires the ball on leg stump and David Miller clips it. Raina swoops down in an instant and grabs the ball just before it kisses the floor. More clumsy hugs. More high-decibel cheering in the crowd.
Vijay has been watching too many of these celebrations. He decides to counterattack, and charges Ashwin. He strikes the ball to deep mid-wicket. But there lies in wait Super Kings' crowd-pleaser Dwayne Bravo. He holds on to the catch, and jives to the crowd's soundtrack. Vijay, who has pulled off a few jigs himself - on one occasion even dropping the ball while doing so - isn't even watching; he is walking back to the dugout.
Thereafter Kings XI embrace slow death, their opponents revelling in their cohesive assault. They even afford themselves some fun in the last few overs, with Ashwin and McCullum humouring the star-struck crowd. Before long, there is more hugging and backslapping in the Super Kings camp. And there is the one sight that unfailingly makes their fans go berserk: that of Dhoni calmly picking up his stump souvenir and walking away without a care in the world.