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Match Analysis

How Chahar kept Dhoni and Co quiet in a match-turning 19th over

Despite bowling with a wet ball, he conceded only three runs and picked up Moeen Ali's wicket to put Punjab Kings ahead

Deivarayan Muthu
Conventional T20 wisdom suggests that only the super-specialists or the best bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah bowl the 19th over as the batting teams are looking to make the most of the remaining balls.
But on Wednesday evening against Chennai Super Kings at Chepauk, Punjab Kings captain Sam Curran tossed the ball to legspinner Rahul Chahar for the 19th. It was the first time that Chahar was bowling the 19th over in the IPL, and it was also the first time since 2020 that PBKS were having a spinner bowl that over.
Having already trapped Ravindra Jadeja for 2 off four balls in the tenth over, Chahar returned with a dew-slicked ball for the 19th. Eight members of the Chepauk groundstaff had just broken into the field, dragging four ropes between them.
Chahar responded with a cagey three-run over, which also included the wicket of spin-hitter Moeen Ali. More importantly, Chahar doused MS Dhoni's explosive finishing ability by hiding the ball wide outside off and denying him easy access to his favourite leg-side boundary. ESPNcricinfo's Shiva Jayaraman puts Dhoni's off-side limitations against spin in numbers: out of the 147 boundaries hit by Dhoni against spinners in the IPL, only 43 have come on the off side. The last time he hit a spinner for a boundary on the off side was in 2022. Since then, Dhoni has faced 35 balls from spinners without a boundary to the off side.
Chahar does not have the T20 pedigree of Rashid Khan or Sunil Narine, but he still has attributes that make him a difficult bowler to put away. He is quick through the air, bowls into the surface, and doesn't allow you to charge at him. He can also turn the ball sharply at that quick pace, and often runs up in a reverse diagonal across the umpire to confound batters.
Chahar didn't go for the funky run-up against Dhoni, but darted three of the four balls he bowled to Dhoni away from his reach. Dhoni hastily chopped the first ball to cover-point. He then tried to do something different by bringing out the scoop, but it narrowly missed leg stump and thudded into the keeper's pads. Dhoni then stabbed a skiddy legbreak to cover-point for a single and closed out the over with a pulled single to deep midwicket.
Chahar deployed the angular run-up against Daryl Mitchell, and, like Dhoni, he could not find the boundary. Job well done.
"I was backing myself that if I bowl my best ball [in the 19th over], then they can't hit me," Chahar said after helping PBKS restrict CSK to 162 for 7. "I wanted to ensure I don't pitch it up to Dhoni, or not [bowl] near his face. Otherwise, it would have gone [to the boundary]. I think, yes [it was one of my best spells]."
Dhoni has struggled against spin for some time now, and CSK have delayed his entry point so much this season that he had faced just three balls of spin before Wednesday's game. However, Curran, a former CSK allrounder who had worked closely with Dhoni, held Chahar back and won the tactical battle.
Rilee Rossouw, who had recently captained Quetta Gladiators into the PSL knockouts and has played T20 leagues around the world, was full of praise for Curran's captaincy.
"I've got to give credit to Sam," Rossouw said after PBKS beat CSK by seven wickets. "He came to me and said: 'What do you think about bowling the legspinner in the second-last over?' And he took the gamble. It was his gut feel, and it came off beautifully well. So a lot of credit has to go to Sam for making that decision. It's not something that we see every day in cricket nowadays. Also, Chahar bowled fantastically well. That's how the game has evolved, I feel. On a slow, turning wicket that was a very good call from Sam."
Bowling at the death (overs 17 to 20), though, isn't an entirely unfamiliar territory for Chahar, especially against CSK in Chennai. He has faced CSK four times at Chepauk, and has operated at the death in three of those games.
Recall the IPL 2019 qualifier. Chahar, who was with Mumbai Indians then, had bowled the 17th over with Dhoni in the middle even though it meant Lasith Malinga would not bowl out. It proved to be a turning point for MI as Chahar gave away only three runs. Five years later, Chahar did the same for PBKS.
Before this match, Chahar had made just four appearances for PBKS this season, managing just three wickets while conceding more than ten runs an over. He will be hoping that his match-winning spell of 4-0-16-2 against CSK in Chennai will turn his own form around as well.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo