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Match Analysis

R Ashwin crashes Chennai Super Kings' party to silence Chepauk

The local boy might not have received a warm reception from the crowd but he was at the top of his game, thoroughly owning the home side

Deivarayan Muthu
When Chepauk last hosted a Test match in February 2021, R Ashwin took a five-wicket haul and scored a second-innings century in a 317-run victory. His "Vaathi Coming" shoulder drop step from the movie Master towards the end of that Test drew huge cheers at Chepauk at the time.
But the IPL is a strange place where partisan loyalties runs deep. Ashwin is no longer a Chennai Super King. He was once a fan favourite here, but things have changed. The Chepauk crowd kept cheering against Ashwin. When he came out to bat at No. 5. When he bowled in the powerplay. When he returned to bowl at the death against MS Dhoni. When he was sipping water at the fine-leg boundary. When he was plotting against Dhoni with Sanju Samson and Sandeep Sharma during a tense last over.
The Chennai crowd had reserved its biggest cheer for Dhoni and, at one point, it seemed like Thala - injured knee and all - would pull off another blockbuster finish in his 200th IPL game as CSK captain. But Ashwin's all-round effort crashed Super Kings' party and hushed the crowd.
Ashwin had been bumped up to bat at No. 5 in the ninth over after Ravindra Jadeja got one to rag away past Samson's outside edge at high pace and knock back his off stump. Jadeja then greeted Ashwin with a similar beauty and grazed his outside edge, but Moeen Ali dropped it at slip. He kept finding vicious turn in a passage of play that was straight out of a Test match. Ashwin, though, countered Jadeja with Test-match style defence and saw off his threat.
Rajasthan Royals could've used their left-hand batter Shimron Hetmyer to take on Jadeja or Jason Holder, who is Royals' spin-hitter in the CPL, at No. 5, but they back Ashwin as a pinch-anchor or pinch-hitter. He soaked up pressure and gave their finisher Hetmyer an ideal point of entry at the end of the 15th over.
After Ashwin had holed out for 30 off 22 balls, Hetmyer made 30 of his own but he needed only 18 balls. It worked out nicely for Royals in the end.
"I surprise people, I guess," Ashwin said after winning the Player-of-the-Match award. "Sometimes, I'm sent out to bat and people are like 'he just went up the order on himself and he just took it upon himself'. But that's the role given to me at that place. We lost Sanju and I was just expected to go and play there. I'm far better judging my strengths when I want to go and am not really in a hurry that I used to be before. So, taking a few balls… I want to be there. Just understand the situation and then utilise my strengths. So, I enjoyed my bat. Home ground. Hometown.
"In case you don't know, every batting innings I'm padded up right from the start. I don't know when I'm going in. So, when I'm asked to go, I go. That's preferably not a role that a batsman would enjoy, but yeah, I'm okay with it because I don't get to bat very often. So I'm very happy."
But Ashwin wasn't done yet. He bowled the last over of the powerplay and a boundary-less 16th over to Dhoni and Jadeja with a dew-slicked ball to strangle Super Kings in their chase of 176.
Though Ajinkya Rahane charged at Ashwin and laced him over extra cover for six, Ashwin conceded only ten in that sixth over. Rahane then ran away to 30 off 17 balls, but Ashwin returned to trap him with a carrom ball that was too full for the sweep.
Super Kings responded by sending their designated spin-hitter Shivam Dube at No. 4, but Ashwin dismissed him too with the old two-card trick. After dangling a loopy offbreak away from Dube's reach, Ashwin got an arm ball to fizz into the pads of Dube. Ball-tracking indicated that it would have missed leg stump, but this was a bowler on top of his game.
"I think Dube is a spin-hitter, he is a designated spin-hitter for CSK," Ashwin said at his post-match press conference. "And I'm sure the way he played Kuldip [Sen] the previous over, I knew he was going to come after me. Didn't have any deliberate plans. But I had, like I said, I told Sanjay [Manjrekar] also [at the post-match presentation], I feel the ball is coming out really well. I'm able to get it to drop. I'm able to put enough revs, I'm able to use both my variations - my length and arm ball and the length is at the moment really good. Touch wood! Just happy with the way it's coming out."
The Chepauk crowd, however, wasn't happy. Dhoni's arrival roused the crowd in the 16th over, but Ashwin quickly silenced them once again by darting the ball into the track against both Dhoni and Jadeja. When he finished his spell with 2 for 25, Super Kings' asking rate had ballooned up to almost 15.
Dhoni threatened to prick it with his late hits, but this was Ashwin's day. He had helped Royals storm Super Kings' spin fortress.
"We lost some momentum through the middle," Fleming said at his post-match press conference. "They've got world-class spinners. It was almost a sort of a blueprint of a Chennai performance with Ashwin and [Yuzvendra] Chahal and [Adam] Zampa working away, and we knew it was going to be a grind like that. And yeah, it got close, but we were just behind really. It was some good hitting at the end that got us closer, but we just lost that momentum through the middle."
In various interviews in the past, Ashwin proudly said: "I own the space around Chepauk". On Wednesday, the homeboy owned both Chepauk and Super Kings' line-up.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo