Talking points - Sam Curran's promotion, Faf du Plessis' fielding and Mumbai Indians' bowling choices
Dissecting the key moments from the IPL 2020 opener
Dhoni's left-field promotion(s)
With Suresh Raina opting out of IPL 2020, Chennai Super Kings didn't have a specialist left-hand batsman in their side. Legspinner Rahul Chahar deployed an angular run-up - something he had done in 2019 to throw Chris Lynn off - and drew a sliced hit from Rayudu, having him caught and bowled for 71 off 48 balls. At that point, the game was still in the balance with Super Kings needing 42 off 24 balls, with Kedar Jadhav listed at No.5 followed by captain MS Dhoni at No. 6.
Before the IPL opener, both batsmen hadn't played competitive cricket for a year or thereabouts. They could've also been vulnerable to left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya, who turns the ball away from right-handers. In order to counter that threat, Dhoni held himself and Jadhav back, bumping Ravindra Jadeja up to No. 5, a departure from his orthodox tactics in the past.
Jadeja found his groove immediately, picking off two fours off four balls against IPL debutant James Pattinson. Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma, who is usually big on match-ups, still brought back Krunal for the 18th over. Krunal did trap Jadeja lbw first ball with a quicker one that skidded off the pitch, but then Sam Curran entered at No. 6 and tipped a tense chase Super Kings' way with 18 off six balls.
"[With] Curran - that's one thing we haven't done [experimenting]. At some point of time we need to give Jadeja and somebody like Sam to express themselves," Dhoni explained at the post-match presentation. "This was the ideal way - one legspinner, one left-arm spinner. We felt it was ideal to intimidate the bowler, a psychological thing - to say he's been sent to do one job."
Du Plessis in the catching hotspots
Faf du Plessis is arguably the best fielder in this ageing Super Kings side. In the 2019 IPL final against Mumbai, Dhoni had stationed him at straight long-on for Kieron Pollard who has the propensity to loft the ball down the ground. On Saturday, several Super Kings fielders, including M Vijay, Piyush Chawla, and Deepak Chahar, fumbled in the outfield, but du Plessis produced two breathtaking catches at the edge of the boundary in the 15th over to rattle Mumbai's innings.
After Saurabh Tiwary dragged a slog-sweep to long-on, du Plessis leapt, grabbed the ball, but the momentum was pushing him beyond the boundary. Du Plessis' sun glasses fell beyond the fence, he stepped out of the field of play as well, but he coolly entered and grabbed it on the rebound.
Four balls later, Hardik Pandya lined up a full delivery from Jadeja and clubbed it flat and hard to long-off. Du Plessis timed his jump to perfection and came down with the ball with both hands. Hardik had struck the ball more fiercely than Tiwary did, but du Plessis made it look ridiculously easy. Once again, the team's slowness in the field was somewhat mitigated by having the quicker fielders in the catching hotspots. Curran also took a smart catch at long-on to dismiss Suryakumar Yadav.
Dwayne Bravo is usually a certainty in Super Kings XI and Imran Tahir was the highest wicket-taker in IPL 2019. However, Super Kings left both out - Bravo was injured - to accommodate Curran and Lungi Ngidi. And on a Abu Dhabi pitch with some grass, both Curran and Ngidi delivered.
Curran dealt in back-of-a-length cutters and one such delivery tricked de Kock into swiping at the ball early and miscuing it to midwicket. After his fuller and length deliveries were punished in the powerplay, Ngidi also hit harder lengths and had both Kieron Pollard and Krunal Pandya caught behind.
While Mumbai have been based in Abu Dhabi all this while, the Super Kings, having come in from Dubai, would've got their first taste of the conditions on match day, but they got their selections bang on.
Mumbai, meanwhile, gave Tiwary his first IPL game since 2017, picking him ahead of his Jharkhand team-mate Ishan Kishan, one among the most exciting young Indian batsmen in T20 cricket. Mumbai recalled their old friend Tiwary as he is particularly strong in accessing the straighter boundaries; the square boundaries are longer in Abu Dhabi. While Tiwary did muscle a brace of sixes over deep midwicket and long-on, he was ultimately done in by du Plessis' brilliance.
Should Mumbai have managed their bowlers better?
Trent Boult, Mumbai's new recruit, pinned Shane Watson with an inswinger in the first over and did an impressive job in the powerplay, giving up only 15 runs in his three overs. Jasprit Bumrah bowled one in the powerplay, and two in the middle, leaving him with only one at the death in the absence of Lasith Malinga. This was a game where both sides had only five genuine bowling options, and it came down to both Krunal and Boult having to bowl one each in the slog overs.
Though Dhoni promoted Jadeja to No.5, Krunal still was given the 18th over. Sure, Krunal got Jadeja first ball, but Curran, the other left-hander, aced that match-up. The dew also made life more difficult for Krunal as he served up a full toss and then over-corrected, going shorter and wider to concede a six and four to Curran.
Bumrah gave up 11 runs in the penultimate over, his last, tasking Boult with the last over. At the death in the IPL, Boult has leaked nearly 11 runs an over, and one of the reasons why he was released by the Delhi Capitals was his lack of enough variations in the end overs. Du Plessis hit Boult for back-to-back fours and sealed the game with four balls to spare. What might have been had Mumbai used their options more wisely?
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo