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Feature

Talking points: What went wrong for the Chennai Super Kings spinners?

And what is it about Sharjah that teams need to be wary of as the tournament progresses?

Deivarayan Muthu
22-Sep-2020
What went wrong for Super Kings' spinners?
In short, Piyush Chawla and Ravindra Jadeja simply kept tossing it up in the slot and couldn't find any dip or bounce to beat Sanju Samson on length. Samson kept swinging through the line and went on a boundary-hitting spree. He took the spinners for 49 off a mere 18 balls.
In contrast, Royals' spinners Rahul Tewatia and Shreyas Gopal didn't toss the ball up as much and instead pushed it through quicker, therefore not allowing Chennai Super Kings' batsmen to target them easily. Tewatia unleashed a slider that rushed Shane Watson for pace and had him bowled for 33 off 21 balls. He then slowed down his pace and shifted his lines wider to have Sam Curran and Ruturaj Gaikwad stumped off consecutive deliveries. All of this despite the onset of dew. From thereon, the Super Kings couldn't prick the ballooning asking rate, despite late blows from Faf du Plessis and MS Dhoni.
After the game Dhoni reckoned that the Royals' spinners had learnt from the errors Chawla and Jadeja had made in the first innings. "There was a lot of dew [in the second innings] and we need to give credit to their bowlers also," he said. "If you put runs on the board then you've seen the first innings what's a good length to bowl on that wicket and they kept hitting the same area, especially their spinners."
Welcome to Sharjah
Unlike Abu Dhabi or Dubai, Sharjah has smaller boundaries and although there wasn't much bounce in this pitch, the ball did come onto the bat better here. The square boundaries are only around 60 metres long, which is comparable to the dimensions at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. Thirty-three sixes were hit when Royal Challengers Bangalore faced Super Kings at the Chinnaswamy in 2018 - the most in an IPL match. As many sixes were hit in Sharjah, with Samson claiming nine of those. To put things in perspective the first three matches of IPL 2020 in Dubai and Abi Dhabi had produced a total of only 28 sixes.
Super Kings succeeded with only five genuine bowling options in Abu Dhabi, but perhaps it wasn't wise to go into Sharjah with similarly limited options. After a fast start from Samson and his captain Steven Smith, Royals suffered a middle-order slide - they lost 6 for 47 - but then Jofra Archer cleared the boundary four times in the final over to propel his side to 216, which ultimately proved 16 too many for the Super Kings.
What was Dhoni thinking coming so low?
Super Kings were chasing 217 on a Sharjah track that was more favourable to batting than the ones in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were. M Vijay and Shane Watson dawdled to 36 for 0 in five overs as the asking rate shot past 12. Vijay's dozy run-a-ball 21, in particular, ramped up the pressure on the middle order. With legspinners Tewatia and Gopal bowling in tandem, there was good reason behind pushing the left-handed Sam Curran up to No. 4. He carted two sixes and a four before Tewatia had him stumped for 17 off six balls. However, still there was no sign of MS Dhoni. Gaikwad, the IPL debutant, was then out stumped for a duck next ball. Kedar Jadhav, who was sent in at No.6, struggled for timing as well and only after he was dismissed for 22 off 16 balls did Dhoni come in at No .7.
The pitch did get slower, but it seemed like Dhoni was just sitting back and playing for the net run-rate, like he had done with Jadhav in a steep ODI chase against England in the World Cup last year.
He left a loopy bouncer from Archer and simply tapped the ball along the ground without showing any attacking intent until the last over. He finally tonked Tom Curran for three successive sixes, but by then the game was up.
Should he have displayed similar attacking intent when the game was alive? Maybe he should've in hindsight, but the pitch wasn't as easy as Samson made it look during his 32-ball 74. Du Plessis tried to match Samson's ball-striking during his 37-ball 72, but he, too, couldn't get the big shots away early in the big chase; he was on 17 off 18 balls at one point before lining up Unadkat and Archer's cutters.
Going too hard at a smart Rajasthan Royals' attack on this pitch would've left a Rayudu-less Super Kings in danger of being bowled out for a sub-150 score and hence falling way behind the net run-rate, which would've hurt them towards the end of the tournament.
At the post-match presentation, Dhoni said that the Super Kings needed a strong start if they were to have a proper crack at the target. He also reasoned that he hasn't had enough game-time to bat up the order.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo