Chennai: David Warner shook the Chepauk pitch out of its death-like slumber through a mix of clean straight hitting, including a six out of the stadium, and audacious switch-hits, one of them a pull for six over extra cover. On a square on which 135 has often looked like a winning total, Warner alone scored 135 off 69, the highest individual score in Champions league history, his second Twenty20 century, and considering the slow-and-low conditions one of the best T20 centuries. In the process he took New South Wales to the top of Group A, and through to the semi-final.
There was brute hitting involved, but that was only the latter part of the systemic dismantling of the Chennai Super Kings, who too had a chance of making it to the next round at the start of the match. That, though, was only until Warner started bringing the Super Kings down to their knees. After that all they could do was watch befuddled, and perhaps admire. They sure did beeline for Warner, to shake his hand once he was done.
They were not sure which hand to shake, though, for Warner frequently switched hands to bat like a right-hand batsman. With the "other" hand, he scored 22 off six balls. Only once did he miss. At the receiving end of three of those hits was R Ashwin, the Super Kings' ace and one of the best IPL bowlers. The other ace that Warner trumped was his New South Wales state team-mate Doug Bollinger, who went for 48 in his three overs.
With attack the only option left for the Super Kings in their chase, Michael Hussey and Suresh Raina scored 65 off 41 balls between them, but once the wickets started falling, the slowness of the track reappeared, and batting didn't quite look that easy. The Super Kings needed to win in 17 overs to qualify for the semi-final, but that just seemed to mock the defending champions.
Their destruction, though, began with Shane Watson who hit Bollinger for three fours in the second over of the innings. He was not in full control, but it forced the Super Kings to introduce Ashwin in the third over. A Murali-Pietersen moment was about to arrive. Warner changed his stance to the fifth ball from the spinner, switched the grip, got under the ball, and went over what was cover for his original stance. In Ashwin's next over Warner repeated the dose, and at 41 for 0 after five overs the Super Kings didn't seem to have any answers.
Ashwin came back to dismiss Watson for 21 off 19 with a carrom ball, but the Super Kings never recovered. NSW promoted last match's hero Steven Smith, and he and Warner pushed the fielders with canny placement and aggressive running in the initial stages of the innings. Shadab Jakati dropped Warner off the last ball of the 10th over. That was cue enough for Warner to launch from 73 for 1.
Warner was 40 off 29 then, and scored 95 off his last 40. The second assault, too, began with a switch hit. Raina was at the receiving end this time. The coup de grace, though, was even more brutal. Bollinger came back in the 13th over, and met a lovely straight drive for a six and a short-arm pull for four. Warner stood steady in the crease, and swung at whatever length Bollinger bowled.
Jakati's flat non-turners were fair game for some smashing, and he duly went for 15 runs in the 14th. Warner waited for Raina to fire them in in the 15th, and lofted him for a four and six too. Ashwin came back to take his punishment, to be switch-pulled for a six. Well and truly rattled, the Super Kings began misfielding all over the place.
Some more punishment remained, though. This time for Dwayne Bravo, the only man with respectable figures of 3-0-19-0, including a drop off his bowling. As with Bollinger, Warner stayed still with Bravo too. The full balls went for two straight sixes. Almost forgotten was as big a six that Moises Henriques hit. Almost forgotten was that Steven Smith played a handy innings of 31 off 29, keeping Warner on strike as much as possible.
The night, though, was about Warner. He would go on to switch-hit Bravo for a four past what was originally mid-off. For the photo album he would launch Bollinger onto the roof and out of the stadium, and watch in admiration, shielding his eyes with his hand, the way you would when watching a plane in mid-afternoon.