Nothing like team effort

Chennai Super Kings' Ben Hilfenhaus celebratesthe wicket of Delhi Daredevils' David Warner. Hilfenhaus picked up three wickets.-PTI

CSK was the most improved outfit in the week not just because it won. It had actually learnt to win again and this aspect of a team's profile counts in a competition where the equations often change within the span of one over, writes Vijay Lokapally.

A champion team must raise its game when it matters. Chennai Super Kings did precisely that to stay in the hunt at a time when its capability to make it to the play-off stage was in doubt. It had struggled for most part of the Indian Premier League, but changed gears and gained momentum as the tournament entered its most critical phase.

Not that CSK had ceased to be a force. It had come to play inconsistent cricket and begun to rely on a few individuals when it was well known that it had the ability to perform collectively. As Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) captain Gautam Gambhir emphasised after losing to Mumbai Indians, in 20-20 any individual can take the game away, but CSK has always believed in a team winning a contest.

CSK was the most improved outfit not just because it had won. It had actually learnt to win again and this aspect of a team's profile counts in a competition where the equations often change within the span of one over. For CSK, it was important that it won the matches against Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils, both away contests and both against opponents that had grown in confidence.

Much was expected of the Mumbai Indians' ability to tame the best in the competition, but it came a cropper against Royal Challengers Bangalore at home before recovering its composure to outgun KKR in the latter's home turf. Once again, Mumbai had fallen prey to its inconsistency, but CSK did not make these mistakes even though it just about scraped past Rajasthan at Jaipur.

Low-scoring contests often turn out to be tricky and the CSK-Rajasthan clash had all the intrigues of the 20-20 format. A good toss allowed CSK the option to bowl first in wet conditions. The rain interruptions meant that the side batting second held the advantage, but then Rajasthan hardly distinguished itself by making a poor 126. Rajasthan all-rounder Johan Botha described the pitch as “two-paced” in the first phase and insisted it had “eased” out after 10 overs when CSK batted.

It was an interesting contest. Many considered it to be one of the best of the tournament. A sensational spell by Ben Hilfenhaus spearheaded CSK's challenge after it had elected to bowl. And Shaun Tait returned the compliment by bowling real quick when CSK began the chase. The audience lapped it up. The bowlers caused discomfort to the batsmen with seam and bounce, but CSK managed to make it through some clinical hitting by Albie Morkel and S. Anirudha. As Botha noted, “All in all it was a very good game. Credit to the two guys (Anirudha and Morkel).”

The big guns at CSK had failed and it was left to the lower half of the batting to deliver. Murali Vijay cut a sorry figure when he was bowled by Shane Watson. He had little clue. Suresh Raina played an irresponsible stroke. Just as Dwayne Bravo, M. S. Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja did when they were expected to stem the rot. But for Morkel and Anirudha succeeding, CSK would have met with a dead end at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. “It is disappointing, but there are times when you have to admit the other team played better,” Dravid graciously accepted the defeat.

David Warner of Delhi Daredevils wasthe one charging against Deccan Chargers.-K.R.DEEPAK

Kings XI Punjab excelled in both its matches against Deccan Chargers. A 25-run win at Hyderabad was followed by a last-ball finish five days later at Mohali. Mandeep Singh was the star at Hyderabad. Known for his grit, Mandeep is a good player of fast bowling. Rated one of the best junior talents in the country, he was backed by his state selectors. And in this IPL arena, his 75 against Deccan Chargers was crafted on the strength of sound judgment at the crease. Eight fours and three sixes adorned his 48-ball knock. A performance that saw his team register a comfortable victory.

Inspired by Mandeep, young Gurkeerat Singh (29 not out off 12 balls, 4x4, 1x6) produced a cameo in the company of David Hussey to pull of a stunner as Punjab chased Chargers' target of 191. The match was a thriller all the way and credit to Hussey for swinging the contest with a 35-ball 65 (4x4, 5x6)

The week began with Delhi Daredevils suffering a home defeat at the hands of KKR. For Gambhir, it was a strange match at home, just as it was for Sourav Ganguly when Pune Warriors India took on KKR at the Eden Gardens. Ganguly lost his home match, but Gambhir won this much-hyped encounter. Delhi posted a decent 153, but lacked the bowling to defend. “We must keep performing collectively,” said Gambhir at the end of the contest.

AJIT CHANDILA, the hat-trick man.-R.V.MOORTHY

Shane Watson was Rajasthan's star performer at Pune. The home team was blasted by this Australian, who made 90 in his team's 126. Rajasthan stayed in the reckoning with a thumping home win over Pune, thanks to fine knocks by Watson and Ajinkya Rahane and a four-wicket haul, including a hat-trick, by off-spinner Ajit Chandila. He achieved the hat-trick off his 5th, 6th and 7th deliveries to live a long-cherished dream.

The Mumbai-RCB match at the Wankhede Stadium was expected to be a cracker of a contest, but it fizzled out as the home team surrendered without a fight. It never recovered from the cheap dismissals of James Franklin and Rohit Sharma. Even Sachin Tendulkar was unable to give his team the platform to try and make a fight.

At Hyderabad, for once the batting potential of Deccan Chargers came good with Shikhar Dhawan (84) and Cameron White (65) putting up a partnership of 126 runs. A target of 188 was a challenging one, but then Chargers ran into David Warner, who displayed blistering form to hit an unbeaten century even as Naman Ojha revelled in his company.

That Daredevils won by a thumping nine wickets only reflected on the woefully inadequate Chargers attack. Incidentally, the Chargers attack did not include one overseas recruit and it reflected poorly on the quality of the domestic cricketers, as rightly pointed out by former Test batsman W. V. Raman recently. In another one-sided finish, half centuries by Chris Gayle and T. Dilshan laid the base for RCB's easy win over Pune Warriors.

Mumbai and Chennai were in a must-win situation on the same day. Chennai was playing at home and Mumbai away. The matches expectedly created a lot of hype, but neither produced the excitement associated with T20 cricket. Mumbai set up a tough target and then bowled splendidly to leave KKR frustrated. “One game doesn't make a difference,” said Gambhir in defence of his team's lacklustre show. But Mumbai was far superior and KKR never found itself comfortable at any stage of the contest.

The same fate befell Daredevils once Hilfenhaus sliced through its top order where Warner and Virender Sehwag failed to get going. Delhi's batting lacked the character to make CSK work hard. The target was achieved without fuss and the win enabled CSK to stay on course for a play-off slot.

* * * Star performers

Ben Hilfenhaus: He looks to make an impact even if he is promised just one over in a match. This crafty Australian is adept at exploiting the conditions and stunningly demonstrated his ability to make the batsmen hop and grope at Jaipur and Chennai. True, the pitches helped him a bit, but credit to this quality fast bowler from Chennai Super Kings for bringing joy to his fraternity. Spells of 4-1-8-2 against Rajasthan Royals and 4-0-27-3 against Delhi Daredevils established his credentials as a thinking bowler. He used the seam well and also worked up pace to leave the batsmen guessing.

Rohit Sharma: For long touted as a special talent, this exciting Mumbai strokeplayer produced a performance that justified the faith reposed in him by the experts of the game. Timing has always been his forte and this allows him to place the ball beyond the reach of the swiftest of fielders. His unbeaten 109 off 60 balls against Kolkata Knight Riders was a brilliant demonstration of controlled hitting. He slammed 12 fours and five sixes, but never looked crude in his exhibition. The innings gave the desired thrust to Mumbai's hopes and it was fitting that he touched sublime form when it mattered most.

David Warner: This Delhi Daredevils batsman brings a whiff of freshness to batting even in the shortest form of the game. That this Australian enjoys his cricket would be an understatement. The left-handed opener has the enviable quality of spotting the ball early which gives him the opportunity to pick the area where he can dispatch it. It suited him that the Deccan Chargers attack did not possess a single overseas player. He just tore into the bowling and the benign nature of the pitch fetched him an unbeaten 109 off 54 balls with ten fours and seven sixes. His presence also allowed Naman Ojha to blossom at the other end.

Ajit Chandila: He almost signed up with Delhi Daredevils last season. And then he was left in the lurch. For this lanky off-spinner, two Ranji matches for Haryana was all he had to show. The 28-year-old, with vast club cricket experience, also overcame the frustration of being scrutinised for suspect action. But his mentor, National selector Narendra Hirwani, guided him and his second match in the IPL turned out to be the most memorable. A hat-trick against Pune Warriors helped him boost his reputation as a versatile spinner. His four-wicket haul comprised Jesse Ryder, Sourav Ganguly, Robin Uthappa and Anustup Majumdar.