When Ambati Rayudu fell for 71 after putting on a 115-run stand for the second wicket with Faf du Plessis, the Chennai Super Kings still needed 42 off 24 balls against the Mumbai Indians in the IPL 2020 opener.
Conventional wisdom suggested Kedar Jadhav or MS Dhoni, one of the two outright batsmen, would come out at No. 5 to push Super Kings to victory, but out came Ravindra Jadeja. It looked like Dhoni was employing the tried-and-tested method of going with a right-hand-left-hand batting combination to disturb the rhythm of the Mumbai Indians bowlers, as James Pattinson prepared to bowl the 17th over. The plan seemed to work, with Jadeja crunching ten runs in four balls, and Pattinson leaking 13.
But Jadeja fell to Krunal Pandya off the 18th over's first delivery, and the equation now read 29 off 17 for the Super Kings. Surely MS Dhoni would walk out now? Well, not quite. In came the Super Kings debutant, Sam Curran, and he crunched two sixes and a four off his first five balls before falling to Bumrah with ten balls to go. The game was now truly in the Super Kings' hands. With ten needed off ten, du Plessis and Dhoni - who finished on 0 not out - finished the game with four balls to spare.
Was it a tactical move or some of the famous Dhoni gut feel that made him push Curran ahead of himself and Jadhav?
"At some point, I thought we needed to give Jadeja and someone like Sam [Curran] to go ahead in the batting order and express themselves," Dhoni said after the match. "They still had two spinners remaining, and we tried to intimidate the bowler a bit, it was just a psychological aspect. We know we bat quite deep, and wanted them to go after the bowler. If you clear one or two [sixes], then it is easier for the batsmen to follow."
Curran, who had taken 1 for 28 earlier, said Dhoni's move "surprised" even him. "I was actually really excited when I was coming to [the] Chennai [team]," the England allrounder said. "Haven't met a lot of guys, straight on the bus, haven't had much to think, landed two days ago [from the England-Australia series] and straight out there to do what I do.
"To be honest, very surprised I went in [at No. 6] but he's a genius, he obviously thought something. Great win in the end. I think [left-right combination was his plan]. That [18th over from Pandya] was the over we wanted to target - a six or out approach mentality. Take the risk, and if it comes off it comes off, if it doesn't, it doesn't."
Dhoni also said that the key to the win was adjusting quickly to the bowling conditions on offer in Abu Dhabi. "You can practise a lot, but when you go out, you need time to gauge what is a good length on this wicket," Dhoni said. "[In the first innings], I felt if there's not much swing, it's better to peg the length back a bit. Initially, Mumbai Indians batted well and put pressure.
"Overall very positive, still some areas to improve on. What teams will learn [is] that if the match [start] timing is same, that in the second half you'll get a bit of movement if the ball isn't wet."
Mumbai Indians, who lost their eighth season opener in a row, were hurt by their batsmen not expanding on their starts, according to captain Rohit Sharma.
"Our batsmen didn't carry on once they got in like how du Plessis and Rayudu did," Sharma said. "You got to make it count when you're in, that's something we failed to do. We were 15-20 short and should've carried on from 80-something at the ten-over mark [to a better total]. But credit to CSK bowlers, they kept us guessing all the time. A few things for us to learn from his game, and that we don't commit those mistakes. Early days but credit to CSK.
"We've got to understand and adapt to the pitches. The pitch got better towards the end with dew coming. It's not that we've not played at bigger grounds [like the Abu Dhabi stadium]. We've got to try and hit those gaps and make sure we get singles and doubles, and focus on that part of the game as well. It's not just about hitting the shots. It's all about understanding what one needs to do and it's something that we failed to do today."