Smart Strike Rates and Smart Economy Rates mentioned in this story are part of ESPNcricinfo's new metrics for T20 cricket, explained here in detail.
Gayle overcomes the Harbhajan threat
R Ashwin's first big decision was playing Chris Gayle ahead of allrounder Marcus Stoinis. Stoinis had only bowled one over in the two games he had played, so it made sense to bring in a specialist batsman for him. After the game, Ashwin said this felt like the right team against whom to unleash Gayle. Why did he think that? Perhaps because Chennai Super Kings don't have any bowlers who consistently bowl at over 140kph. Gayle has, of late, struggled against that kind of a threat but against medium-pacers, he is still lethal, as he showed with his two centuries in the Bangladesh Premier League last year.
The one bowler who did pose a threat to Gayle was Harbhajan Singh, who had dismissed him three times in eight innings, conceding just 5.77 runs an over before this match. Dhoni opened with Harbhajan, but Gayle attacked and took 19 runs off the 12 balls he faced from the offspinner.
Ashwin changes his Powerplay approach
In Kings XI's last game, in Bengaluru, Ashwin had used five overs of spin in the Powerplay. This time, he used just one. This could have been because Kings XI had a much bigger total on the board, so Ashwin was looking to defend rather than attack. His choice could also have had something to do with the pitch. In IPL games in Bengaluru, spinners go at 7.65 an over in the Powerplay. But in Mohali, they go at 8.60 an over, more than at any regular IPL ground barring Rajkot. Seamers go at 7.95 an over in the Powerplay in Mohali, which is not much higher than the average, 7.61. So Ashwin may have decided that on this pitch, it was better to start with seam and let the spinners bowl in the middle overs.
The tactic worked as Kings XI reduced Super Kings to 53 for 2 in the first six, with seamers Mohit Sharma and Andrew Tye taking a wicket each. The spinners then flourished in the middle overs, Mujeeb Ur Rahman conceding just 18 off his three overs and Ashwin, who bowled mainly legbreaks to the right-handers, taking 1 for 32 in his four.
Jadeja before Bravo again
Several CSK fans were a bit bemused to see Ravindra Jadeja come out to bat before Dwayne Bravo, the hero of their season opener. Since 2015, Jadeja has a Smart Strike Rate of 99.58 in the IPL, while Bravo's is 133.90 in the same period.
So, why did CSK hold Bravo back? The main reason is that Bravo tends to struggle against spin. His T20 strike-rate against spin is just 111.50, while against pace it is 136.83. When Jadeja came in to bat, in the 14th over, Kings XI still had an over each from Ashwin and Mujeeb left. Holding Bravo back means a team either completes their overs of spin before he comes in or holds back their spinners till the death, when it is too late to bowl them. The tactic partly worked, as Kings XI did not bowl out Mujeeb, their most economical bowler this season.
Also, Jadeja takes more time to get going than Bravo, so Super Kings may have sent him in early so he could get set. It did not work out in the end for them, though.
Mohit finds the right line in the final over
A few right-arm bowlers this season have come around the wicket to right-handers in crucial final overs. There was none of that from Mohit Sharma, who stuck to bowling wide, full balls from over the wicket. Mohit is an underrated death bowler. In the IPL since 2015, his Smart Economy Rate in the death is 9.32, which is better than the figures for Jasprit Bumrah and Dwayne Bravo.
In the 18th over, Mohit had bowled four balls on the stumps and got taken for 17 runs off them. In the final over, with Super Kings needing 17 to win, he bowled five consecutive deliveries wide of off stump to MS Dhoni. Even when one was deemed a wide, it did not deter him. He conceded just five runs off those balls, sealing the game for Kings XI.