Michael Hussey's exhilarating 95 and quality contributions from Wriddhiman Saha and Suresh Raina, followed up by an outstanding last over from Chris Morris, took Chennai Super Kings to the top of the Pepsi Indian Premier League points table as they beat Kolkata Knight Riders, the defending champions, by 14 runs at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Sunday.
The Chennai top order, under scrutiny after having failed to deliver collectively on a consistent basis, took the Kolkata attack apart to post an imposing 200 for 3. Though Manvinder Bisla matched up to Hussey with a poised 61-ball 92, the lack of substantial support from other batsmen and Morris' excellent final over ensured that Chennai won their fifth match on the trot as Kolkata finished on 186 for 4.
On a bright and sunny day, Hussey resumed from where he had left in his last innings against Sunrisers Hyderabad after Chennai were asked to bat by Gautam Gambhir. He dispatched the first poor delivery of the day, in the second over bowled by Shami Ahmed, for a boundary to fine leg and then hit three boundaries off L Balaji as the floodgates opened.
Gambhir brought on Sunil Narine in the fifth over but Hussey cut and then pulled him for boundaries to give Chennai the early momentum. Hussey then pulled Jacques Kallis over mid-wicket for six and took just 31 deliveries to bring up his fourth half-century of the season.
With Hussey in full flow, the confidence rubbed on to Wriddhiman Saha, in his first game of the season replacing an injured Murali Vijay. Saha revelled in his role as opener, keeping the board ticking and hitting sixes over long-off off Shami and Kallis to play his part in the second opening century partnership for Chennai this season.
Success came for Kolkata in the 11th over when Saha, trying to clear a half volley from Rajat Bhatia, was caught by Eoin Morgan at midwicket for a 23-ball 39. In fact, except for a three-over period between the 10th and 12th overs, there was hardly any respite for Kolkata as they bowled either too many short or length balls on a pitch that had no assistance for the bowlers whatsoever.
As Raina started middling the ball straightaway, lofting Narine over extra cover to bring up his 100th six in IPL, Hussey improvised at the other end. Finally in the 15th over, Debabrata Das caught him midwicket off Narine as he failed to get fully underneath a short delivery. Hussey hit 11 fours and two sixes.
Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni put on 32 runs in 21 balls. Raina was run out for 44 (25 balls) but Dhoni clobbered a Balaji full toss over wide long-on off the final ball of the innings as Chennai became the third team to post a score of 200 or more this season.
Kolkata were helped by the rustiness of Dirk Nannes, whose first over yielded 18 runs, as they brought up the fifty by the fifth over. However, the wickets of Gambhir and Brendon McCullum within the Power Play overs nullified the progress.
That did not deter Bisla as he played with poise and cleverness. His innings was divided into parts. First, with Kallis, he steadied the innings with a 36-run stand. He converted poor deliveries into boundary balls with ease. He hit four fours off one Morris over and was particularly severe on R Ashwin, whom he dispatched for a six and then hit fours off consecutive full tosses to bring up his second half-century in as many matches.
In the space of six balls, Kallis got two lives as Raina dropped an easy chance at midwicket and then Dhoni missed a stumping chance. Kallis and Bisla added 36 before Dwayne Bravo sent Kallis back.
It brought Eoin Morgan to the middle. With the required run-rate climbing, Bisla improvised well enough to keep the flow of boundaries healthy. At the other end, Morgan played some furious strokes but Bisla's run out, courtesy a direct hit by Hussey in the 19th over and Morris's calm - he only conceded four when 19 were needed off the last over - when it mattered took Chennai to the top of the table.