It has been a four-year long wait for Chennai Super Kings since they won their first Champions League title in 2010. Contrary to their reputation of being regular finalists, it was a rather bleak period for them as they failed to make it to the final even once. So it was a relief for MS Dhoni and his team-mates that they were able to break a worrying trend. Pawan Negi, playing only his second game of the tournament, starred with a five-wicket haul before Suresh Raina controlled the chase with a clinical century,
"I am so happy we delivered in a crucial situation, especially Pawan Negi bowled well and they were 20 runs short, but I and Baz [Brendon McCullum] had a good partnership and finished off," Raina said. "I was looking to be positive in the first six overs. I know they had Piyush and Kuldeep and Yusuf - I have played a lot against them before. I knew if I get to a fifty I have to make sure to stay till the last over because if one wicket fell, the pressure would have come to the next batsman. "
Raina had played a similar innings - a 25-ball 87 - in a tough chase against Kings XI Punjab during the knockout stage of the IPL this year, but his run-out robbed the team of momentum and Super Kings lost the match by 24 runs. Dhoni said that even though Super Kings were floundering in the knockouts, their were learnings from all those losses.
"What's important is to get to the knockouts. After that you may win games, you may lose games," Dhoni said. "We have made eight finals, won four, I won't say it is bad. We made quite a few errors in the last two finals, so what we took out of those finals was really important.
"Raina did that in this game. In the last semi-final we played, he started well but was run-out and we were not able to chase the runs. Today he was aggressive throughout and calculative. Raina's batting was fantastic because we needed someone to be there till the end and he is someone who plays spin really well."
Dhoni added that the toss was crucial as dew was expected to be a factor later in the day. "We thought there would be dew later and because the start was an hour early, we thought our spinners could still get a bit of help," he said. "It was slightly difficult for the opposition bowlers. But I think we didn't start well. Our fielding was not up to the mark. In finals, you have to take the game to the next level. It's not about the bowling, we made too many misfields."
Those misfields meant that Kolkata Knight Riders were off to a good start with Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir adding 91 for the first wicket. Gambhir maintained an aggressive stance throughout his innings and did not let the more established Super Kings spinners settle. The counter-punch, however, came from an unexpected quarter. Negi, the left-arm spinner, reaped the rewards of tossing the ball on a helpful pitch and returned a five-wicket haul that was crucial in limiting the Knight Riders score to 180.
"Negi is not afraid to toss the ball," Dhoni said. "That was quite crucial because if there is dew and you keep bowling flat, you do not get much purchase out of the wicket. I was happy that he was still looking to flight the ball. Gambhir batted well for them. Because of him, our left-arm spinners were not able to contain them but once he got out, we were able to put pressure on other right-hand batsmen."
In the absence of Sunil Narine, all eyes had been on the young chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, who had also been named in the India squad for the one-dayers against West Indies. Although, he was dismantled by Raina in his spell, Dhoni had encouraging words to say about him.
"Kuldeep was fantastic," Dhoni said. "He is a bowler who is not afraid to toss the ball, he has got variations. He bowled really well throughout the tournament. Also, this time of the year, more often than not you get a bit of dew, which makes it difficult for the spinners. It gives them the kind of experience they need once they graduate to the next level. At the same time, they share dressing room with legends of the game. It's crucial they learn a lot out of them. You don't get opportunities like this."