Jaipur: Chennai Super Kings have perfected the habit of making even the most regulation run chase appear formidable, and still finding a way of getting out of jail. Even by those standards, the two-time defending champions made a complete meal of a most modest total of 126 for six posted by Rajasthan Royals, and looked set to play themselves out of contention for the knockout stages of IPL V until, dramatically, Albie Morkel and S Anirudha got them out of jail on a tense, low-scoring but action-packed Thursday night.
Playing his first game of the season, Anirudha turned out to be the unlikely hero, smiting Shane Watson and Shaun Tait, until then the two most impressive Royals bowlers, for massive sixes to play an equal partner in an astonishing stand of 43 off just 12 deliveries that propelled the Super Kings to a four-wicket victory. Scorecard
Having needed 47 off the last four overs after having dawdled during the middle part of their reply, the Super Kings eventually won with 11 deliveries to spare in a sensational turn of events that catapulted Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men to fourth in the standings.
On a stop-start day when rain interrupted the Royals' innings thrice, the Super Kings seemed headed for a comfortable victory with Suresh Raina blazing away, but once the left-hander was well caught by Ajinkya Rahane attempting one big hit too many, the innings went into an inexorable tailspin. The experienced trio of Michael Hussey, Dwayne Bravo and Dhoni struggled to get the ball off the square as the Royals medium-pacers made capital of the swing and seam on offer, imposing a stranglehold that appeared decisive.
It was Morkel's arrival, with 47 needed off 24 deliveries, that turned the course of the match. The South African left-hander exploded in a flurry of boundaries, then watched from the non-striker's end as Anirudha smashed Watson and Tait around. Victory came courtesy five wides from Tait in an anti-climactic end to a contest that ended well past midnight and had the capacity crowd on the edge of their seats.
The Royals looked set for a hiding to nothing after being stuck in by Dhoni, deprived of momentum all the way through. Ben Hilfenhaus bowled an exceptional spell, sending down four overs on the trot with the new ball for incredible figures of 2 for 8, while the rest complemented him beautifully, R Ashwin's sensational catch running in from third man and diving forward to snaffle Watson typifying the resolve and grim determination of the holders.
Only when Stuart Binny laid into Bravo did the Royals obtain any impetus, but the Super Kings pulled things back beautifully. Strangely, Dhoni didn't requisition Ashwin's off-spin till the 17th over and asked the profligate Bravo to bowl the final over when Morkel had one up his sleeve. On another day, these might have been crucial errors, but with Morkel and Anirudha in awesome boundary-clearing mode, the champions lived to fight another day.