Three players at different stages of their careers helped Chennai Super Kings to a much-needed victory that kept their hopes of making the semi-finals alive
The fringe player
In a team with stars like MS Dhoni and Matthew Hayden, left-arm spinner Shadab Jakati doesn't get top billing. Yet, in the three matches he has played this season, Jakati has provided Chennai with a failsafe run-saving option in the middle overs. This, in a team where six of the frontline bowlers tried this season have disappeared for eight runs per over or more. Jakati had success last season as well, taking eight wickets in his first two IPL games, but offspinner R Ashwin was favoured at the start of this campaign. After Ashwin was offcolour for three matches in a row, Jakati got his chance and he has been spot-on since.
Today, Jakati continued with his round-the-wicket, keep-it-full policy and it paid off; first, he had the in-form Robin Uthappa, holing out to midwicket, to put the skids on Bangalore Royal Challengers after they had blasted Manpreet Gony for 19 in an over. Two more tight overs followed, but he saved his best for when he returned with Bangalore again looking ominous. The rock-steady Jacques Kallis had guided them to 115 for 2 in 15 overs and a final onslaught loomed, but Jakati had Virat Kohli swatting a full toss to long-on first ball, before Kallis was run-out two deliveries later. Kevin Pietersen, playing his first match this season, watchfully saw out three remaining balls of the over, which meant Jakati had bowled what was Chennai's second maiden of the competition. At 29, Jakati already has more than a decade's worth of domestic experience and little recognition, but more IPL matches like this should change that, and make him a rich man after the next auction.
Knocking on the international door
Unlike many of India's talented youngsters, M Vijay got his first taste of international action in Test cricket rather than in the limited-overs formats. Seen as someone with a game suited for the long form, he did little of note when given chances in the IPL last season in South Africa. This year also got off to a disappointing start, with several single-digit scores, but in the last couple of matches Vijay has reeled off two of his best Twenty20 innings.
Chennai have often looked to Hayden to provide the propulsion at the top of the order, but Vijay has shared that load in the previous two games. Against Rajasthan Royals on Sunday, his savage assault on medium-pacer Sumit Narwal - three fours and two sixes in a single over - kept Chennai in the chase, though the team lost due to a middle-order muddle.
Against Bangalore, he brought up his first IPL half-century - a blistering leg-side-heavy innings - after which Chennai should have sauntered to victory. All six shots which cleared the rope in his 78 were on the on-side (only 12 off-side runs in his innings), peppering the entire arc from fine leg to long-on. The barrage started in the fourth over, when Vijay crashed three sixes on his way to taking 24 off Praveen Kumar. At that stage, he was outscoring Hayden 37 to 0. The rest of his sixes were saved for the part-time offspin of Kevin Pietersen, and by the time he was dismissed looking for his third hit into the stands beyond long-on in the 11th over, Chennai were left needing little more than a-run-ball with plenty of wickets in the tank.
In the inaugural season of the IPL, Muttiah Muralitharan was introduced to
the harsh realities of Twenty20 when he was axed from a team for the first
time in at least a decade; that too after he turned in impeccable figures of 4-0-12-0. Since
then, though, Chennai have realised his worth, and rarely kept him out of the XI despite their preference for overseas players with all-round skills.
He is Chennai's MVP of the season so far. In a team of spendthrift bowlers, Murali has been consistently miserly - giving away just 6.15 runs an over. He is the only Chennai bowler to complete his full quota in every game this season, another indicator of his lack of off-days. Add to this the Purple Cap for being the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, and it's easy to see why he's the first name on the team-sheet for every match.
While his outstanding success in the game's more conventional forms has had plenty to do with his prodigious ability to turn the ball, his Twenty20 mastery has less to do with his spinning the ball sharply. He prefers to bowl round-the-wicket, keeps attacking the stumps to deny the batsman any room and maintains a full length to restrict the chances of the batsman muscling the ball down the ground. That nagging accuracy worked well against Bangalore, choking the batting and allowing mostly singles. On a day when he finished with 4-0-21-0, his best over was the 15th, when a well-set Kallis couldn't even get bat on ball on four deliveries and Bangalore only got two runs at a time when they were looking to hit top gear.