Coming in at 27/3, in the fifth over, Dhoni first resurrected the innings with precision and then in the death overs brought out his full repertoire of strokes slamming 75* in 46 deliveries to propel Chennai Super Kings to a daunting 175/5.
Rajasthan then despite starting off poorly in the chase came close to the target but with 12 runs needed in the last over they could not get over the line falling short by eight runs.
The win meant Chennai further consolidated their position at the top of the points table with three wins out of three while Rajasthan's third loss on the bounce means they have a lot of catching up to do.
Ajinkya Rahane's decision to field first was vindicated right away with Jofra Archer getting rid of Ambati Rayudu in the second over courtesy a quick back of a length delivery that the opener could only edge to Jos Buttler.
Shane Watson broke the shackles by fiercely pulling Ben Stokes over the square leg fence for a six but the bowler got his revenge two balls later. Watson looking to cut a good length delivery was deceived by the bounce and ended up slicing it straight into the hands of short third man for a run-a-ball 13.
Jadhav started off with two successive fours but an audacious attempt at an on-the-up drive brought about his downfall for 8. At 27/3, Chennai desperately needed someone to restore some parity to the proceedings and who better Dhoni and Suresh Raina to lead the march.
Dhoni had a massive stroke of luck on 0 when an inside-edge off Archer trickled onto his stumps only for the bails to not fall off. The rub of the green going his way Dhoni, alongside Raina carefully started building the innings.
Chennai could only manage 45 runs in the first ten overs but the duo ensured that the wickets column was not disturbed at least for a while.
With Rajasthan pacers doing a fair job, the two decided to target the spinners. Raina got his boundary counter running by cutting Shreyas Gopal past point before lofting K Gowtham for an effortless inside-out hit. He then clubbed Gopal for a trademark six over deep midwicket as Chennai slowly but surely started to get things back on track.
Jaydev Unadkat, introduced into the attack in the 12th was dealt severely by Dhoni and Raina. His first over was taken for 12 runs with both batsmen collecting a four each. However, the left-arm pacer had the last laugh when he broke the 61-run stand by castling Raina, who looking to play his favourite inside-out shot missed and found his stumps in a mess.
Dwayne Bravo, coming in at No.5 quickly got into his groove thumping Stokes for two fours but at 115/4 after 17 overs, Chennai were still far off from a par score. This is when Dhoni decided to take matters into his own hands.
A free hit in the 18th over resulting from a waist-high no-ball from Dhawal Kulkarni presented Dhoni a chance to open his shoulders and he dispatched the bowler for a six over extra cover.
Bravo too smashed a four and a six in the same over before perishing in the next miscuing Archer to long on for a 16-ball 27. Dhoni reached his 21st IPL half-century with a delightful glide past backward point but he reserved his absolute best for the last over.
Ravindra Jadeja set the pace in the 20th over by bludgeoning Unadkat over the long on boundary before Dhoni provided the finishing touches as he smoked the left-arm pacer for three gigantic sixes off the last three balls to send the Chepauk crowd into a frenzy.
At one stage on 12 off 15, striking at 80, the Chennai captain finished with a strike-rate of 163.04, his innings studded with four fours and as many sixes as Chennai collected 60 runs in the last three overs.
Rajasthan's chase got off on the wrong foot with Deepak Chahar getting rid of Rahane second ball of the innings.
The opener drove a good length delivery uppishly and Jadeja, lurking at backward point dived forward to complete a stunning catch inches off the ground. Samson then could not repeat his last match heroics as he departed for 8 giving Chahar his second wicket of the day last ball of the third over.
The very next ball Jos Buttler (6) departed mis-hitting Shardul Thakur to mid-off and leave Rajasthan tottering at 14/3 after 3.1 overs.
Steve Smith and Rahul Tripathi restored some balance to the innings as they crafted a crucial 61-run stand for the fourth wicket to keep their side in the hunt. Tripathi, in particular, played an intelligent knock mixing caution with controlled aggression.
He targeted his spots on the field and made sure he pierced them every single time. 17 runs were collected off Mitchell Santner's first over while Chahar and Jadeja too weren't spared. Smith at the other end, though finding the going slightly tough, ensured there weren't too many dot balls.
However, Imran Tahir's spin did the trick for the hosts. A leading edge safely caught by the bowler himself brought about Tripathi's downfall for 39 (24 balls) while three overs later Smith too departed when he a hit a low full toss from Tahir to long off.
Just when it seemed the curtains were closing on Rajasthan, Archer came in and infused a fresh lease of life to the run chase. He hit his first ball four before cracking another six to end the 17th over on a high. The 18th over was what turned the contest on its head.
Stokes started off by clattering Bravo for a six and a four while Archer ended it with a six leaving the visitors 25 runs to win off the final two overs.
Thakur's penultimate over cost Chennai 13 runs leaving Bravo 11 to defend in the last over. There was another twist in the tail and a vital one as far as Rajasthan are concerned when Stokes fell off the very first of the 20th over toe-ending a simple catch to Raina at extra cover.
Chants of 'Bravo', 'Bravo' reverberated through the stadium and the West Indian delivered conceding just three runs.
First Published: April 1, 2019, 12:53 AM IST