chennai

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – In the end, Mr Cricket is the real winner

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Rajasthan Royals in Chennai

Result: Chennai Super Kings won by 5 wickets

Narrative:

The Royals chose to bat first, and were single-handedly powered to a mammoth score by Aussie all-rounder Shane Watson, who scored a belligerent ton (also the first of IPL-6). He was particularly harsh on CSK’s new favorite, Jadeja, who cracked in his third over conceding 18 runs including two sixes and two big wides. Stuart Binny was the only other batsman who made a substantial contribution and Ashwin was the only bowler who ended with decent bowling figures. It left the Super Kings needing 186 to win the game.

The Super Kings were in control of the chase, right from the start. Despite Vijay’s failure (again), Hussey and Raina never let the required rate shoot up. Raina scored a much-needed half century with contained some trademark shots of his, while Hussey continued his rich vein of form to score a match-winning 88 from 51 balls which completely neutralized Watson’s century. Despite a late stutter, Bravo’s six in the final over bowled by Watson ensured that CSK would move right to the top of the points table.

Analysis:

It was refreshing to finally see the Super Kings break the back of a chase in the power play overs. Last time I mentioned how their strategy of keeping their push for victory too late would not work every time, and that they need to retune their strategy; it seems like they paid attention. It also helped that chasing a mammoth target meant that they would have to come out all guns blazing from the word ‘go’. For a team which boasts of an enviable depth in batting, they really should bat more confidently and more often. Hopefully, they will make this a trend.

First, the disappointments. There were two, namely Murali Vijay and Ravindra Jadeja. Both were stars of the last Test series against Australia and both were in contrasting form in this IPL, up to the start of this game. Except for a run-a-ball fifty against KXIP, Vijay has had a shoddy time with the bat, and moreover he doesn’t project an air of self-confidence either. Honestly, I don’t see how he can survive the axe for the next game. Baba Aparjith can be given a chance, considering his allround skills.

As for Jadeja, this game was bound to happen sooner than later. He was tonked mercilessly by Watson and he seemed to crack from the pressure bowling two huge wides in his third over. With the bat, he lasted for a mere two deliveries before getting his stumps knocked out of the ground. If he was floating in the air after all the “Sir” jokes and mass adulation, he would have come back to earth with a thud after this game.

We also got our first look at Jason Holder, the tall West Indian bowler. Nothing special about his performance though; unless he picks wickets by the bunch in the next couple of games, I don’t see him getting picked over Nannes, Laughlin or Hilfenhaus in the future.

It was great to see Raina back in fine form; he is one of the finest T20 players around, and the Super Kings would have heaved a sigh of relief when they saw his meaty blows to the fence. Undoubtedly, the real hero for CSK this year has been Michael Hussey. Free of national commitments, Mr Cricket has narrowed his focus to performing for CSK with all the zeal and determination of a player trying to make his mark among the big boys. With his third fifty this year, he has zoomed to the top of the run charts and established himself as CSK’s most prized wicket; and that’s saying something considering the rich array of batsmen that the men in yellow possess.

Preview of next game:

Hyderabad Sunrisers in Chennai. Without Perera and Sangakarra, the team will be considerably weakened; but the likes of Mishra , Steyn, White and Vihari, with the possible inclusion of World Cup winning skipper Darren Sammy, will ensure a tough contest for the Super Kings. The Sunrisers are third in the points table and they will itching to show just why.

 

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Views of a Chennai Super Fan – Mr Smith comes to Chennai

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Pune Warriors India in Chennai

Result: Pune Warriors won by 24 runs

Narrative:  

Pune’s stand-in skipper Ross Taylor won the toss and chose to bat first. Almost immediately, Aaron Finch embarked on a rampage, sending the CSK fielders on a leather hunt during the first half of PWI’s innings. Aided by the sedate Utthappa, Finch turned on an exhibition of crisp hitting, as the openers added 96 for the first wicket within 13 overs. When he got out though, CSK seemed to have clawed back as the men in yellow restricted the run rate and prised the wickets of Utthappa, Taylor and Marsh in the process. It was then, the much maligned Steven Smith who turned the heat right back on Dhoni’s men with an audacious 39 from 16 deliveries, as Pune Warriors posted 159/5 from their allotted overs.

In response, CSK got off to a terrible start when Srikkanth (junior), who replaced Mike Hussey, got out to the second delivery of the innings. From there, they kept losing wickets at inopportune times; Vijay, Badri and Jadeja failed to convert their starts, Dhoni had a rare failure and the overseas stars came undone with the bat. In the end, the men in yellow stumbled to 135/8, handing their opponents an unexpected victory.

Analysis:

Since the start of their campaign this year, Pune Warriors kept on the sidelines, the one man who was their lone bright spot during last year’s disastrous run. Steven Smith finally got a game due to the enforced absence of their regular skipper, Angelo Mathews, and once he came out to the crease made the management look like a bunch of fools for keeping him out so long. Despite Finch’s start, it was Smith’s late flourish that helped the Pune Warriors to a challenging total.

As for CSK, it seemed to be an experimental side for the game and they got their just reward for taking the opposition too lightly. Sitting out Hussey and playing one all-rounder too many was not the smartest of decisions. The bowlers for the most part did a manful job on a batting track, but the performance of the experienced Nannes and Bravo was disappointing. Nannes hasn’t really brought any oomph to the attack, which his compatriot Bollinger brought to the team when he made his IPL debut. As for Bravo, he doesn’t really offer anything that the other all-rounders don’t (except for his dancing moves) and it might be better for CSK to go with the overseas combination of Hussey-Morkel-Morris and Nannes/Hilfenhaus/Holder for future games.

As for the batting, Dhoni is justified in his anger at the post-match press conferences. For the most successful team in IPL history, to perennially struggle with the top order is frustrating; it is hard to expect Dhoni and Jadeja to perform miracles all the time. Vijay can’t seem to find the perfect balance between attack and defend while Raina is not displaying his once-famed consistency in the shortest format. These two players need to back up Hussey and Badri, if CSK are to win more games. One quarter of CSK’s campaign is over, and their record is 2-2. In a tightly packed table, they cannot afford too many slip-ups against lesser teams.

Preview of next game:

Next up, the Super Kings travel north to take on the wooden spoon owners, Delhi Daredevils. Ideally, one would think that the men in yellow would win this comfortably; but given their fondness for making every game a tight encounter, expect this to be a tough one.

Tweet of the game:

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – “Dhon’t” leave it too late!

Over the coming weeks, I will be offering my analysis of CSK’s games from a fan’s perspective. Here is the first of the lot:

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Mumbai Indians in Chennai

Result: Mumbai Indians win by 9 runs.

Narrative: Ricky Ponting won the toss and chose to bat. Promptly, MI were in trouble as they lost Tendulkar and Ponting to the seasoned Nannes and rookie Rajpoot. Dinesh Karthik continued from where he left off against RCB, but the wickets continued to fall as MI stumbled to 83/6 at the end of the 12th over. From there on, it was a Pollard show, as he played a typical belligerent innings to help MI to 148 with the help of Harbhajan Singh. In reply, CSK never really got going as they struggled to 97 in the 16th over when Jadeja lost his wicket. MSD took it as his cue to play his trademark back-to-the-wall innings, as a flurry of four and sixes came off his bat in the final overs, but it was that man Pollard again, whose spectacular catch on the boundary in the final over, who sealed CSK’s fate and with that the game for MI.

Analysis: A very disappointing loss, considering that CSK had reduced MI to 83/6 at one stage. Still, chasing 149 in home conditions against a side without its Lankan spearhead should have been comfortable enough. Yet, that old failing of CSK – unable to get going in the powerplay – came to the fore as the top order just allowed the required rate to shoot up, leaving too much for the middle and lower order to do. MS Dhoni can only do so much, and with a little help from the other batsmen could have still won the game. Starting the season unconvincingly is nothing new for CSK, and invariably they end strongly; but Fleming and Dhoni will have to seriously work on the issues with the top order. It’s worrying that Hussey-Vijay-Raina-Badri-Bravo are unable to give good starts consistently. Hopefully, the arrival of Albie Morkel in the coming week will help with the blues.

 

Two Days at Chepauk

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Slightly nervous mixed with barely controlled excitement. That’s how most international debutants feel; and it was no different for my Test match debut as a spectator at the stadium. I watched the first two days of the Chennai test between Australia and India from the stands in Chepauk and was not disappointed as Ashwin, Clarke and Tendulkar made it a very memorable experience. I’m still kicking myself over missing Dhoni’s double ton on the third day, but that story is for another time. Here is a brief recount of the highlights of my two days at Chepauk.

  • My trepidation about attending a match at the stadium had to do with the assumption that I would not be able to appreciate the minor details as much as I would have if I watched the game on TV. Instead, I realized that the trade-offs go the other way too; the joys of watching quality spin and pace bowling (Ashwin and Pattinson), masterful batting (Clarke and Tendulkar) and stunning ground fielding (Warner) at the ground does not really give a fair contest to a TV experience. Also, the ebb and flow of a hotly contested Test match really sucks you in as a spectator. There are no distractions; just an absorbing contest between a bowler and a batsman. I left the stadium with a much deeper appreciation of Test cricket. 

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  • The ‘Knowledgeable Cricket Crowd’ title for Chennai fans is quite appropriate. At so many points in the match, I overheard interesting stats and anecdotes from fans sitting around me. Another impressive factor was their recognition of lesser known players. It’s one thing to recognize an Indian  reserve player, and it is another matter to realize that the Australian player walking along the boundary ropes in front of you is Jackson Bird. The Aussie players would be pleasantly surprised whenever someone would call out their name and start cheering. The same applied to players on the field. Michael Clarke and David Warner were big crowd favorites on Day 2, when their names were being chanted (this, at a time when Sachin and Pujara were at the crease!). Both obliged crowd requests by doing mini-jigs, thereby getting a lot of love from the stands. And there was something else that I never would have imagined I would see in a Test match: mexican waves. Young, old, men, women – all joined in and had a gala time doing it. All of this made for a fun two days of watching cricket at the stadium.

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  • Indian players getting cheered at the stadium is no big deal. Still, it was an experience in itself whenever Tendulkar came into play. If the ball went to him when he was fielding, there was a loud cheer. If he defended a ball for no run, there was a loud cheer. The big screen at the stadium had to just show him sitting in the pavilion, and a loud cheer would resonate around the ground. There was this ridiculous instance in the first session of Day 2, when the Aussie tailenders were resisting; Sachin was off the field for a short while and the crowd was getting restless. Out of nowhere, someone started a “Sachin, Sachin” chant, which immediately got picked up in the stands. All this for a player who was not even on the field of play! It’s just mind boggling to think how he handles this game after game, in different stadiums in different countries, decade after decade.
  • It was not all perfect, of course. Entry into the stadium was not nearly as smooth as I would have liked; fans were asked to switch off their phones (in my case, I was asked to “remove the battery” of my iPhone!), those who were wearing black t-shirts were turned away (fearing some political disturbance) and there was no re-entry allowed for fans who wished to leave in between and come back later in the day. As for the big screen, it was annoying to see the action replays being cut off midway and replaced with a random ad, which always resulted in loud groans from the stands. All these amounted to minor quibbles over the two days. 

Overall, I had a great time watching the game from the stands. I understand that experiences may vary in other stadiums within the country and outside it, but I would highly recommend watching an international game at the ground for any fan who hasn’t done so till now. Watching a well contested game between two quality sides in the company of thousands of cricket lovers, making new friends and meeting up with friends you only knew in the online world till then; all of it made for a memorable international debut…..for me.

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[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 26, 2013]

England is the new Pakistan and South Africa are still South Africa

Move over Pakistan. Take a hike, India. There is a new ‘mercurial’ team in town. In their last three games, they have tied, lost and won matches in thrilling fashion. They managed to lose to an associate nation despite scoring 327, and against a tournament favorite, they won despite scoring 171. Their ground fielding and catching in this tournament belong to the blooper reels, while their batting revolves around just four batsmen. Their team consists of players who would make a traditional Pakistan team proud – a flashy strokemaker prone to implosion at the sight of a left arm spinner, a stolid batsman who at one down is the most consistent batsman in the line up, and a spinner who has to score runs lower down the order so that he may some runs to bowl with!

Single handedly, they have brought the World Cup alive and made Group B the hottest ticket in town, thereby making matches in Group A bland by comparison (It doesn’t help that Pakistan has become weirdly consistent and shorn of drama, while Australia seem to have retained a bit of their old clinical efficiency). While the ICC and rest of the cricket world have been busy breaking their heads over the 10 team World Cup planned from 2015, the English cricket team has gone to ‘bat’ for the cause of the Associate nations, by narrowly avoiding a loss to Netherlands and losing in thrilling fashion to Ireland.

They have also quietened debates over the merits of 50 over cricket, and shown that as long as you have brilliance balanced with mediocrity in the same team, there will be no lack of excitement in the games your team plays. England might not win the World Cup, but there is no doubt now as to which team you should follow for an exciting game of cricket!

As for South Africa – just when I was beginning to think that they were the only team capable of winning this World Cup, they ch****.

A message to Botha, Duminy, de Villiers – who all, over the course of the last few weeks had gone out of their way to stress that this team was different from previous World Cup squads – “Nice try, but you have fooled no one. The tag will remain with you till you win the World Cup. So, might as well embrace the ‘C’ word and get your thought process straight. Remember – after denial, comes acceptance!”