IPL 2023: Business as usual for CSK, enter their 10th final in 14 seasons

Chennai Super Kings showed why they mean business in the playoff stage of the IPL by marching to their 10th final in 14 seasons, overcoming table-toppers Gujarat Titans by 15 runs.

In the end, it was a complete performance from Chennai Super Kings. Despite losing the toss on a pitch where MS Dhoni too wanted to bowl first, their batters assessed the conditions perfectly to post 172/5. With no dew around, three spinners in their ranks to make the most of the slow conditions and the unorthodox fast bowler Matheesha Pathirana to take care of the death bowling, Dhoni controlled the game, save for a short while when Rashid Khan used the long handle and smashed 30 off just 16 balls.

Course correction

In their last home game against Kolkata Knight Riders on a tacky surface, Chennai Super Kings’ batting unit had paid the price for being too expansive in their approach against spinners Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine. Accounting for the dew factor later on, they came out all guns blazing but before they could realise found themselves in a hole from where they could only crawl to 144/6.

On Tuesday, against Gujarat Titans – an opponent with a more balanced and better attack – put into bat first, it was always going to be a challenge for the CSK batsmen against the wily Rashid Khan and Noor Ahmad. The two wrist spinners from Afghanistan – right and left arm respectively – have become a lethal pair this season. And on a surface where there was enough purchase for the spinners, those eight overs from Rashid and Noor were going to dictate Super Kings’ fate.

IPL 2023 Gujrat Titans’ Rashid Khan, right, celebrates the wicket of Chennai Super Kings’ Ambati Rayudu during the Indian Premier League qualifier cricket match between Chennai Super Kings and Gujrat Titans in Chennai, India, Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (AP Photo /R. Parthibhan)

More than the pitch what is even more tricky at the MA Chidambaram Stadium is predicting the amount of dew as out of the four night games here, there was no presence of it against Lucknow Super Giants and Delhi Capitals. But over the past week, with the sea breeze non-existent, and humidity on the higher side, dew played a significant role in Chennai’s match against Kolkata. And on the eve of Qualifier 1, both the teams stayed back till late on Monday night to gauge the conditions.

The key to walking into the unknown is to be bold and clear in approach and be eventually prepared for the worse. In that context, the Super Kings had to be bold in their approach against Rashid and Noor. And after Darshan Nalkande offered a life to Ruturaj Gaikwad in the second over – was dismissed off a no-ball – he combined with Devon Conway to give the Super Kings another strong start at the top. The only difference this time was the fluency missing from Conway as the Kiwi made a 40 off 34 deliveries – the most unconvincing he has looked the entire season. But even then, in the five overs that Rashid and Noor bowled together from the fourth over to the eighth, the duo managed to get 46 runs with Gaikwad bringing up his fifty in 36 deliveries. For a pair that has been quick to get off the blocks, they didn’t even get into fifth gear.

IPL 2023 Chennai Super Kings’ Ruturaj Gaikwad, right, raises his bat to acknowledge his fifty runs as Devon Conway looks at him during the Indian Premier League qualifier cricket match between Chennai Super Kings and Gujrat Titans in Chennai, India, Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (AP Photo /R. Parthibhan)

Gujarat bowlers kept taking their towels out to wipe their hands – perhaps playing the bluff to deceive Chennai – but by the halfway stage of the first innings, it was evident that the hosts had assessed the conditions rightly this time. Having been unhappy through this season because the pitch was not as conducive as they would have liked, the Super Kings got one to their liking in their final outing here. With any total in the range of 165-180 being a par one, they didn’t go hammer and tongs in search of extra runs and risk losing their wickets. Gujarat fast bowler Mohit Sharma was exceptional in the two overs he bowled in the end. Out of the 12 deliveries he sent down, 8 were below 110 kmph, which meant he was hard to hit. With no dew in sight, 172 was always going to be more than enough for the Super Kings.

Making it complicated

For a batting line-up that likes chasing, all that Gujarat needed was a good start from their openers and an impactful powerplay before the spinners came on. But with Wriddhiman Saha perishing in the third over, Gujarat – who had been very clear in terms of their planning chose to drift away from that template. Hardik came into bat at No.3 and struggled to make an impact. But spinner Maheesh Theekshana, who had struggled to make an impact at Chepauk this season, roared back into form, picking up Pandya in his first over. With Theekshana looking in his element, Gujarat now promoted Dasun Shanaka to No. 4 – in the hope that the Sri Lankan captain could handle him better. While he certainly did, hitting his compatriot for successive sixes, a reverse sweep off Ravindra Jadeja proved to be his downfall.

The experiments would continue. While David Miller has been acing his role as a finisher, to counter Jadeja – who by now was getting plenty of turn – Gujarat sent him at No. 5. That experiment too was short-lived with Jadeja taking his wicket. 88/4 would become 88/5 when Shubman Gill – who like Conway struggled for momentum, but still ended up playing a couple of eye-catching shots, departed caught at the fine-leg boundary off Deepak Chahar. 85 off 41 was gettable with Rahul Tewatia and Rashid Khan to come, but Chennai were in no mood to let them off their hook. Although Tushar Desphande delivered an over that cost 17 runs, and Pathirana and Chahar bowled seven wides between them, Chennai held their nerves to enter the final.

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