The Chennai Super Kings fielding coach Steve Rixon recently commented that they are yet to nail down their batting positions this season. Despite this, it is remarkable then that the two-time champions are comfortably leading the standings with seven wins in nine games.
Their score of a nicely-rounded 200 today against the Kolkata Knight Riders is their highest of the tournament yet – confirmation that after a sloppy start, MS Dhoni’s boys are quite the team to beat now.
Michael Hussey’s exceptional form this season continued making many wonder if he had erred by retiring from international cricket. The Aussie pro who’ll be 38 in a month has scores of 20, 86*, 6, 65*, 40, 88 and 45, and he backed them up with an innings of 95 today full of trademark front-foot swings to the leg-side and placements so fine, he would shame the best recruitment firms.
The target was steep. Manvinder Bisla’s 92 kept up the hopes for a repeat of the 2012 final where he starred in a big chase against the same opponents. But pragmatically speaking, Kolkata were far behind the high required run-rate. They needed 116 in 60 balls, and then 75 off 30 – and that was beyond the tremendous chasing skills of even Jacques Kallis, Brendon McCullum and Eoin Morgan.
Kolkata still got close. Bisla and Morgan took 12 and 21 off Dirk Nannes’ final overs after Bisla and Gautam Gambhir had taken 18 off his first. In this tournament, Nannes has rarely looked like he knows which lengths to bowl and the Kolkata batsmen swung away happily at his length balls. But Hussey claimed Bisla with a direct hit from mid-off, settling the debate on who the man of the moment was.
Hussey’s performances have somewhat masked the short-comings of Suresh Raina. The IPL’s top run-getter has been underwhelming this summer. Today, Raina got his act together, partially because Hussey and Wriddhiman Saha’s 103-run stand had set the stage for the No. 3 to express himself freely. Raina didn’t disappoint, making 44 off 25 to keep the high run-rate rate up.
Chennai are the clear leaders at the moment while defending champions Kolkata are languishing in seventh place. It would take an extraordinary turn of events for Gambhir’s team to make the play-offs now.