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Match Analysis

The CSK game that showed Gaikwad has taken over

The new captain was at the heart of a hard-fought victory over rivals Mumbai Indians

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
MS Dhoni knows sixes. So, when his eyes widened, and he pushed his lips up and out, as he watched the ball sail over the boundary with an appreciative nod, it's proof that something special has happened.
Akash Madhwal was bowling. He had seen the batter charge at him. Making room outside leg stump. So he corrected his course. And dragged his line wide. Ruturaj Gaikwad was mid-move when he realised he was out of position.
Mumbai Indians vs Chennai Super Kings is the biggest rivalry in the IPL. And that's not just for the fans. The teams soak in it too. It showed in their tactics on Sunday night; in how much work had gone into outdoing each other. Of course, there are times when even the best laid-plans are busted by individual brilliance.
Like Gaikwad - out of shape - managing to reach a ball he wasn't meant to and striking it for six over point.
Mumbai made similar moves and their opener was at the centre of it all too. Rohit Sharma vs left-arm pace is love story made in hell. CSK would have hoped to exploit that with Mustafizur Rahman, who has been in form this tournament. Except as soon as he came on, he was hit for four. Rohit kept doing this. Attacking the first ball of the over. It got to the point where he was toying with CSK.
Once, he hurtled out of his crease, making room for himself to lift Mustafizur over cover. Next, he shuffled across his stumps, because he knew the bowler would pull his length back and bring his line tighter, and as reward for all of that quick thinking, he found himself in the perfect place to do a little redecoration of the Wankhede. His six crashed into the roof.
This was cricket on the cutting edge of the cutting edge. And it was so much fun.
Ravindra Jadeja had the biggest smile on his face as he finished his spell. He had been hit for a reverse-swept boundary but still gave away only six runs in the over. Mumbai had tried to smash him almost every ball. Rohit even tried to reverse sweep him, twice. And he doesn't do reverse sweeps. He'd played only seven of those in his entire IPL career coming into this game. Once again, those were attempts to get a boundary off the first ball of the over.
According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, Mumbai brought out a big shot to 14 of Jadeja's deliveries and he turned seven of them into dots or singles. CSK's left-arm bowling machine had to do something he hates in order to succeed like that. He gave up the stumps. He bowled wide. Returns of 4-0-37-0 doesn't do justice to his effort. The corresponding figures for Matheesha Pathirana (12 and 8) Tushar Deshpande (11 and 7) and Shardul Thakur (13 and 7) showcase just how good the whole team had to be to defend a total at the Wankhede.
CSK's win in the end owed as much to the fact that there wasn't a lot of dew on the ground as there has been previously in Mumbai. Their slower balls into the pitch were sticking, so much so that they were able to drag a rampaging Rohit back. He had raced to 66 in 39. Then, he took 12 deliveries to score 12 runs. That kind of deceleration, especially in the back ten, is usually telling. He did go on to bring up a century. He did not celebrate it.
"In the middle, when Rohit was going strong, we felt game is sliding a little," Thakur told the host broadcaster. "And when I came on to bowl, I felt let's be brave here and make him play to the bigger side [they weren't playing on the centre wicket], challenge him to hit me on the bigger side, if he can clear the boundary, well give him full marks but if he can't, then [that] might be turning point of the game."
The night ended with Gaikwad raising his fist in the air, his head ever so slightly bowed. He was taking a moment for himself. This was the game that he finally became CSK's captain. He took the decision to give up his spot as opener - which is crucial to the way he bats because he is a touch player - to Ajinkya Rahane in order to give him the best chance of success because he was playing with a niggle. This little shift also enabled CSK to have their best pace-hitter out in the middle at all the times Jasprit Bumrah came on to bowl. That head-to-head only lasted four balls and yielded three runs but check out what Gaikwad did against the other two specialist quicks: 47 runs in 21 balls with four fours and four sixes, one of which, a picture perfect, straight bat, simple extension of defence against Gerald Coetzee, who is in the running for the fastest bowler of IPL 2024, had him literally licking his lips.
Cricket on the cutting edge. So much fun.
CSK might have been slow to start. They even allowed a powerplay over to sneak by without a single boundary, and were 48 for 1 at the end of six, but this is all by design. They conserve wickets and leverage their batting depth unlike any other side in the IPL. The numbers bear it out. Since 2021, CSK are the quickest-scoring team in the last ten overs (9.79 rpo), with the most fours (316) and the most sixes (254).
On Sunday night, they made sure eight of the back ten went for double-digits, peaking with Dhoni smashing three sixes in three balls off the opposition captain. Then, they prevented it from happening to them by taking the pace off - CSK bowled 27 slower balls that cost them just eight runs an over as opposed to MI's 13 slower balls that were smashed for nearly 12 an over. The difference might well have been in how Gaikwad's men kept exhorting the Mumbai line-up to see if they can clear the longer side of the ground. They did that by digging it into the surface instead of floating it up on a length.
"This was a repeated [used] pitch today," Thakur added, "On the 11th, MI played on the same pitch and I think in Wankhede whenever the pitch is repeated, slower ones work better the next game and we felt apart from Pathirana I think we felt we should keep bowling slower ones into the pitch and at some point we'll be able to get them out."
When Tim David was at the crease, Mustafizur wanted to target him from around the wicket. But realising that it was vital to keep away from the Australian's hitting arc, the CSK captain overruled his strike bowler and made him come over the wicket. At the cost of a wide and a six, they dismissed MI's final hope of victory.
In their last game, after failing spectacularly in the effort to make sure Dhoni hit the winning runs, Gaikwad thought he might make up by letting Thala take the lead as the players came together to shake hands. Dhoni would have none of it. He hung back. He knows new history is being written at CSK. And now after beating Mumbai in Mumbai, everybody does as well.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo