Raina hits KKR for six

The victorious Chennai Super Kings team.-PICS: G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

The southpaw’s 62-ball-109, with eight, long, clean hits over the fence, paved the way for Chennai Super Kings’ second CLT20 triumph and a fourth trophy overall. By Shreedutta Chidananda.

At the halfway stage of the Champions League T20 final, Kolkata Knight Riders might have felt it was in with a great chance of winning the competition. Some 40 minutes into the second innings, those hopes had been blown to smithereens. Suresh Raina dealt out a thrashing so severe that Chennai Super Kings made a target of 181 look singularly mediocre on its way to the title.

In limited-overs cricket, Raina exudes a confidence and a command over his skill that is enthralling. At the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, the 27-year-old sent the ball soaring over the ropes on eight occasions — most of them long, clean hits — but never appeared to exert himself unduly. His 62-ball-109 paved the way for CSK’s second CLT20 triumph and a fourth trophy overall.

“He has been a talisman batting at No. 3,” coach Stephen Fleming said afterwards. “I must admit that at half-time I thought 180 was a little bit above par. But the way Raina played was a master-class in how to chase down a competitive score.”

Raina had matured over the years, Fleming felt. “He’s gaining experience and he works very hard. Whenever we get together, we talk about his defensive play. The synergy between left-handers is quite important; we talk about the areas where he defends the ball and hits the ball. But he has taken it to a new level. When he is on form and playing like that, he is one of the best players in the world to watch, especially against the spinners. He had some aspects that he wanted to work on and he worked behind the scenes, hard on that. He is a pretty special talent when he is on,” the New Zealander said.

SURESH RAINA... on a rampage.-

To say that KKR missed Sunil Narine is an understatement. The side’s run to the final — and indeed success in the IPL in 2012 and 2014 — had been built on Narine’s ability to smother opponents and restrict them to low scores. At this tournament, he had found allies in young Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav as KKR throttled its opponents with spin. Until the final, that is.

With Narine banned — having been reported twice for chucking — KKR was unable to control Raina’s aggression. Kuldeep, who had impressed the selectors enough to earn a first call-up to the Indian side, was torn to shreds.

The chinaman bowler has turned out for India under-19s but is yet to play First Class or List A cricket. He was given a sobering preview of international cricket by Raina, who dumped him thrice beyond the ropes. Kuldeep went for 44 from four overs, Chawla 38 from three, and Pathan 34 from 3.3.

PAWAN NEGI... putting the brakes on KKR.-

KKR captain Gautam Gambhir, whose 80 went in vain, sought to defend his side. “Dew was a massive factor. Their spinners got a lot more purchase than ours. We felt 180 was a good score on that wicket. I’m proud of the way we played today on that pitch. I don’t know if any side will be able to beat our 14-match unbeaten record soon,” he said.

Gambhir refused to blame Narine’s absence for the loss. “Sunil wasn’t there but we still had a lot of belief. Of course he’s an integral part of the side and I’m sure he’ll be back stronger.”

GAUTAM GAMBHIR... his dismissal triggered a collapse.-

That KKR was limited to 180 was down to Pawan Negi’s figures of five for 22, remarkable for a T20 game. “T20 is a format where batsmen take risks against bowlers but there’s no doubt that he did well,” Gambhir said of Negi, his Delhi team-mate in the Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier this year. “The first three overs were good and taking three wickets in that 19th over was a great effort. But the pitch gripped a lot more for their spinners than ours.”

The tournament again highlighted the primacy of the IPL teams in the CLT20. Four out of six editions have now been won by Indian teams, with the last two finals contested only by sides from the country.

This time, three out of the four semifinalists were from the IPL. The IPL also has the largest representation at the competition. With a total prize money of USD 6 million, the CLT20 is, in its own words, “the most lucrative T20 club cricket tournament in the world, designed to benefit domestic clubs.”

The dominance of the IPL teams is partly due to four editions being hosted in India, but that is not the only factor. The tournament, which has not exactly set the public pulse racing, risks fading into irrelevance if the non-IPL teams are reduced to also-rans. This is not to blame the IPL franchisees — for it is no fault of theirs — but the CLT20 ought to look at itself if it is to attract sustained interest.