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“Tough watching the RCB chase. Bags packed and then unpacked and then packed again. Emotional roller coaster”, tweeted Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming when the Royal Challengers Bangalore were struggling to chase down 136 against the then bottom-placed Deccan Chargers. Eventually, RCB choked and crashed out of IPL 2012, presenting CSK a spot in the playoffs on account of their superior net run-rate.
Consider the three last-ball successful chases and an abandoned match, and you know that the defending champions have lived on the edge right through the league phase of the tournament. They have, nevertheless, managed to cross the line when it mattered.
CSK’s rough ride had a lot to do with them losing their invincibility at home. The team struggled to get to terms with the newly-laid wicket at Chepauk. Their star off-spinner, R Ashwin, who tormented batsmen in previous seasons, looked pedestrian this year. Their batsmen faltered in reading the two-paced wicket. Their battered confidence didn’t help them in their away games either.
What MS Dhoni’s men did remarkably well, though, is fight. Despite the crumbling middle order, inconsistent bowling and out of form Indian players, CSK never gave up till the final ball. They were brave and luck favoured them.
IPL 2012: The beginning was far from perfect – a thumping eight-wicket loss to the Mumbai Indians at home. CSK’s first win in the tournament was their 74-run cake-walk against the Deccan Chargers in Hyderabad. This win was scripted by the all-round brilliance of Ravindra Jadeja. The confidence of that triumph was shattered when they went to Delhi and returned with a harrowing eight-wicket defeat on a pacy wicket. CSK batsmen collapsed for 110 against the Daredevils’ fast bowling attack.
Then, they came home and hosted RCB for the most exciting match of the season. An unlikely chase of 206 runs was made possible by Albie Morkel’s seven-ball cameo of 28 runs. They continued to blow hot and cold with an away defeat and then a home victory against the Pune Warriors India and another last-ball win, against Rajasthan Royals at home.
Three narrow defeats that followed – against KXIP, KKR and MI – were a wake up call of sorts. This inspired the men from Chennai to three consecutive wins for the first time in the tournament. Despite losing their final league match to KXIP, CSK remained in contention thanks to a washed out game in Bengaluru. Batting star: Faf du Plessis came into the CSK squad in IPL 2011. He warmed the bench for the entire tournament and failed to get a game in the 2011 CLT20 as well. In 2012, Michael Hussey’s international commitments presented him with a chance to make it to the playing XI. By the time Hussey joined the team, du Plessis had become the most consistent performer of the team.
The South African batsman took on the mantle of opening the batting and made the position his own. Every time he stepped in to bat, he ensured his team got off to a good start, at a decent pace. In his debut IPL season, du Plessis has already scored more half-centuries – three – than any of his teammates. His consistency at the top of the order made saw him don the Orange Cap for a while, before he had to make way for Hussey at the top of the order. With 398 runs at 33.16 and a strike-rate of 130.92, du Plessis has been CSK’s best batsman in IPL 2012 so far.
Bowling star: Ben Hilfenhaus joined the team half way through the league phase and has played six matches so far. Already, he is the second-highest wicket-taker for CSK with 10 scalps – one less than Dwayne Bravo and Jadeja, who have played 16 matches each. Hilfenhaus has become an invaluable asset to the CSK bowling attack with his ability to swing the ball in Indian conditions at a decent pace. His best performance so far has been a fiery spell of swing bowling to rattle the dangerous top order of the Delhi Daredevils. The late out-swinger to dismiss Virender Sehwag was one of the best deliveries of the tournament.
X-Factor: Perhaps, the most important factor for CSK so far this season has been played by luck. That they have made it into the top four is a beautiful conspiracy of destiny. After they lost their last league match to KXIP, their only chance of survival was for RR and RCB to lose to the Deccan Chargers – the then last-placed team on the points table. As if breathed with a new life, the Chargers defeated both their opponents to answer CSK’s prayers.
CSK would obviously want the lady luck to keep smiling upon them during the playoffs as well. But what they’d want more is for their cricketing strength to come good. With some world-class finishers in their side – especially, Dhoni, Bravo and Morkel – the team from down south will always have an edge while chasing big targets or even while setting them. In Bravo and Morkel, they also have two perfect Twenty20 packages that can bat explosively, take wickets when needed and field brilliantly.
IPL 2012 has thrown its fair share of surprises already with past records and big-name players not amounting to much. The Mumbai Indians have been a mercurial side; their performances ebbing and flowing throughout the season. While consistent performances might have eluded MI, results have favoured the reigning CLT20 champions. Ten wins from 16 matches underscore the team’s will to win. That’s the main reason why they find themselves in the IPL 2012 playoffs looking for their first taste of league glory.
IPL 2012: MI began their season with a titanic clash against the Chennai Super Kings. Their comprehensive eight-wicket win over the reigning champions should have given them enough confidence to carry forth their momentum. Instead, they succumbed to an embarrassing 28-run home loss to the Pune Warriors India. This clearly summed up MI’s Jekyll and Hyde displays in the tournament.
Back-to-back wins followed for MI; Rohit Sharma’s last-ball six against DC saw them winning a close one, and then, a combined team effort helped them overcome the Rajasthan Royals at the Wankhede Stadium. Two consecutive victories were balanced out by two losses on the trot. The Delhi Daredevils humbled MI in Mumbai, while Kings XI Punjab proved they were good enough to topple the Harbhajan Singh-led side too.
MI’s batsmen needed to fire with their bowling lacking the depth due to Lasith Malinga’s temporary absence on account of his back injury. Still, Ambati Rayudu led the way in a thrilling four-wicket win over KXIP in Mohali to see MI climb back up the table. But they couldn’t quite measure up once again against the Daredevils in Delhi. The Mumbai franchise proved its mettle in the next three matches by winning against DC, PWI and CSK, all of which were high-pressure finishes. Dwayne Smith announced his arrival with his last-over heroics against the Super Kings, while MI batsmen successfully weathered Dale Steyn’s barrage against the Chargers. With five matches remaining in the league stage, MI held their nerve at the right moments to claim vital six points to secure their playoff spot.
Batting star: Rohit Sharma’s class is never in doubt, but his shaky temperament has let him down on previous occasions. With 419 runs, Sharma is MI’s top scorer so far this year. However, what’s crucial about his statistics is that his innings have, more often than not, led to victories in IPL 2012 – be it showing composure against a fired-up Dale Steyn against DC or playing right through the innings against KKR in Kolkata. The right-hander has been at the forefront of everything positive that MI has had to offer so far. The playoffs present the perfect stage for the 25-year-old to go ahead and make his mark in MI folklore.
Bowling star: While MI have struggled with consistency, their pace ace, Lasith Malinga, had no such troubles. The Sri Lankan took 22 wickets in 13 matches in the league stages to give his team a sense of security with the ball. A niggling back injury forced him to miss three games, but his return to the side coincided with the team’s upsurge. MI’s go-to bowler and IPL 2011’s Purple Cap winner, Malinga will once again be a severe roadblock to MI’s adversaries in the playoffs.
X-factor: In Kieron Pollard the Mumbai Indians possess the kind of weapon that few teams in the IPL can boast. With 204 runs and 15 wickets so far, Pollard is the ideal Twenty20 player. He might not have exploded with the bat this season, but his efforts can turn the tide in MI’s favour at any moment. The 25-year-old all-rounder is quite capable of providing that crucial push at this stage to give the Mumbai Indians a shot at claiming the elusive IPL title.