The numbers say opener Sunil Narine just can't put a foot wrong against spin. MS Dhoni brought on Harbhajan Singh to bowl the game's second over. First ball he faced off him, a wild hoick found Suresh Raina at mid-off. Last match's hero went back without too much to show this time.
The numbers say Andre Russell is deadly at the death, deadly against fuller-length deliveries, and he can alter the course of an innings in a few balls. When Dwayne Bravo fed him length ball upon length ball, all of that happened, as if every analyst's prophecy was coming true to bite Dhoni's Super Kings. Dean Jones, a man who has coached Russell at Islamabad United, repeated after every towering six, on the host broadcaster's commentary feed, that no T20 side should ever feed full-length balls to him.
The numbers say Ambati Rayudu barely ever opens the batting in T20s, and that he is a slow starter in the Powerplay. They also say Sam Billings is a made-for-T20 opener, with an ability to get off the blocks quickly and, in general, score faster across every phase of the innings. And yet Rayudu found himself out again with Shane Watson at the top, matching the Australian shot for shot at one point.
What else do all those analyses and numbers say? That Dhoni is a slow starter in recent times, that he needs time to settle in, and that against Sunil Narine, he has never scored a single boundary in all these years. Dhoni walked out in the middle of the ninth over, his side still needing 118 off 69 balls. He scored five off his first ten balls, after which Narine nearly trapped him in front.
With Raina gone, Billings made up for Dhoni's struggles, racing to 30 off 14 by the time Dhoni went for 25 off his 28 balls. That's an innings of less than a run-a-ball in a chase of over 200. The data says another thing: that no batsman has played a slower knock in a 200-plus IPL chase, while facing more than 15 balls.
Coach's Diary: Dhoni relinquishes finisher's role in CSK
Dhoni's innings ended with Super Kings needing 48 off their last 21 balls. The numbers say one last thing: that Dwayne Bravo strikes twice as fast at the death than Ravindra Jadeja, but as you'd have figured by now, it was Jadeja who walked in to bat.
As things turned out, Jadeja's slowish start didn't matter, Bravo walked in with eight balls to go, and together they hunted down the target in the final over. A thrilling finish with the stamp of Dhoni all over it.
This is Dinesh Karthik's first season as a full-time IPL captain, and, on his second day at the job, he had some crucial decisions to make in a tight chase. His decisions were in sync with the data and historic match-up numbers throughout the early parts of the innings, as he held his best spinners back to take on Dhoni and Raina. The plan worked, until Dhoni smashed Kuldeep Yadav for two massive boundaries in the 14th over. Karthik then held Kuldeep back, and brought Tom Curran for the next over.
With Billings mowing down the target at breakneck pace, Karthik found himself staring at the fact that Curran, arguably his best death-bowling option on current form, would not complete his quota of four overs. He handed him the 19th over and he removed Billings to leave Super Kings with 17 to get off six balls.
Dhoni wasn't around, but his side had gone the distance in executing his lets-see-who-blinks-first philosophy in a high-pressure chase. This was no time for data, just a good old battle between two sets of human beings under intense pressure.
As it turned out, Karthik blinked first. He brought on the man who has conceded the most runs and most sixes in the 20th over in IPL history, a man who hasn't had the best of starts to his season. Vinay Kumar blinked next, bowling a near-waist-high full-toss that was dispatched into the stands behind fine-leg. He then got a wide yorker all wrong, and brought down the equation to seven off four balls. Finally, Jadeja, who had not managed to hit a boundary off his first five balls, got one right in his hitting arc, on a full length.
You might call it another Super Kings jailbreak, the entire legion of data analysts and commentators might wonder how any side could get away with so many strange decisions, but it was the so called "Mahi way" that came to the fore again. Even on a night when the man himself found the going tough. And, as it turned out, the same two men who had finished the job in the only successful 200-plus chase in Chennai were at the crease once again. The bowler tasked with defending 15 off that final over? Vinay Kumar, of course.