Between them, the two sides had won the Indian Premier League (IPL) in five of its ten seasons, and Mumbai fans, who had to wait until 2013 for their first title, missed no opportunity to remind the visitors that they had now won it a record three times.
Given how long some of Chennai’s players have been around, you’d have been forgiven if you half-expected them to take the field with Samurai topknots and Bushido blades. After the auction last January, when Chennai bought ten players over the age of 30, even their own fans dubbed them the Senior Kings.
On Saturday, in the opening game of the IPL 2018, all those thousands of miles in the legs showed as well. Of the seven bowlers that MS Dhoni turned to, Imran Tahir was 38, Harbhajan Singh 37, Shane Watson 36 and Dwayne Bravo 34.
Watson and Bravo bowled steady slow-medium pace, and Mark Wood’s inability to find the right length – he went for 49 in four overs – illustrated just why Dhoni has always been more comfortable with bowlers on the slow side of the spectrum. Chennai have Lungi Ngidi in their ranks as well, but he and Wood could struggle for game time especially if the pitches at Chepauk are low and slow.
Another kind of slowness, however, would have bothered Dhoni, who was instrumental in India phasing out some legendary, but unathletic, names when he assumed the ODI captaincy a decade ago. Chennai were poor in the field. Bravo overran a ball on the boundary, Ravindra Jadeja saw a catch burst through his hands, and Suresh Raina watched a booming drive from Krunal Pandya streak past him.
As with the team Dhoni inherited with India, there were far too many fielders to hide, too many individuals so stiff and slow in their movements that ones invariably became twos. The rust was evident with the ball as well. Bravo’s first over, the 12th of the innings, went for 14, as Suryakumar Yadav smashed three fours in a row.
In late 2016, Bravo tore his hamstring so badly that it nearly separated from the bone. He admitted after his match-winning 30-ball 68 that it had been playing on his mind. “I'm no longer 24, so I have to be very cautious,” he said. “I started very slow and just needed to get momentum going into the game.”
With the bat, Chennai were pushed to the brink by the heroics of Mayank Markande, a 20-year-old leg-spinner from Bhatinda in Punjab. His three wickets included Dhoni, trapped in front by a googly that skidded on. “I thought he bowled brilliantly, we backed him when we saw him first at our camp,” said Mahela Jayawardene, the Mumbai coach. “He is quite accurate and probably a bit different to a normal leg-spinner as well – the way he delivers the ball, the control he has with his variations, and he is very confident for a guy who has not played much T20 cricket.”
In the end, however, the nous of Bravo, playing his 376th T20 game, and an impudent scoop over fine-leg from 32-year-old Kedar Jadhav, who came back out despite hurting his hamstring, saw the oldies limp home. The stands emptied quickly, with only hundreds of Chennai fans staying on to watch the presentation. Their numbers spoke of Chennai’s pan-Indian appeal, in a country where away-day travel hasn’t caught on because of both distance and cost.
In the build-up to the game, Stephen Fleming, the Chennai coach, had talked up the value of experience. “Not often do you see young players come out and make a mark,” he said. “People talk a lot about it but very rarely do young players shoot the lights out.”
Markande so nearly did, and Jayawardene offered a different view. “It’s a balancing act, isn’t it?” he said. “You need experience. We’ve got plenty in our camp as well. At the same time, we try to introduce a few younger guys to bring that energy through.”
Despite Bravo taking the way of the warrior to a famous victory – their last IPL game before this was the loss to Mumbai in the 2015 final – Chennai will need to find much more youthful energy of their own if they are to meet the expectations of their devoted fans.
chennai super kingsCSKDwayne BravoFrom the press boxIPL 11IPL 2018lungi ngidimark woodMayank MarkandeMS DhoniMumbai Indians
First Published: April 10, 2018, 10:43 AM IST