How will MS Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings tackle Andre Russell? That was the biggest talking point before Tuesday's (April 9) match against Kolkata Knight Riders in MA Chidambaram stadium, Chennai.
CSK couldn't quite tackle Russell directly, but kept him quiet by tackling the others. In yet another low-scoring encounter on a tough pitch, CSK restricted KKR to 108 for 9 in 20 overs, with Deepak Chahar picking three and spinners Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir picking up two wickets each.
That score could have been much lesser if not for an unbeaten 44-ball 50 from Russell. CSK took their time and finished the chase in 17.2 overs, with Faf du Plessis leading the way with a 45-ball 43*.
It was the near perfect bowling display by CSK. They started on the right note by winning an important toss, given dew would make bowling difficult later on.
Deepak Chahar and Harbhajan Singh then provided the best possible start, reducing Kolkata to 24 for 4 in five overs. The slow pitch aided CSK's bowlers, but none of the top four wickets were because of the pitch. Chris Lynn missed a cross-batted slog in the first over to be lbw to Chahar. Sunil Narine was undone by Harbhajan Singh's brilliance: the offspinner kept bowling slow and outside off, and Narine mistimed a slog to point. Narine has been strong against spin in the IPL, but Harbhajan was too smart for him this time.
Nitish Rana then pulled a short of length ball from Chahar to Ambati Rayudu at mid-wicket. Robin Uthappa started the fifth over hitting Chahar for two boundaries, but perished in the fourth ball pulling a short slower ball straight to the only fielder in the leg-side fence.
Home boy Dinesh Karthik steadied the ship briefly but he too played across the line to give Imran Tahir his first wicket, bringing Russell in at 44 for 5 in the ninth over.
With 11 overs left in the innings and the pitch beginning to aid spin, it was a different sort of challenge for six-machine Russell. He soon lost the last recognised batsman Shubman Gill too, making his task even more difficult from 47 for 6.
Russell had two options - either to hit his way out of trouble, or try and be cautious. He started slow, taking seven balls to get off the mark before running out of patience, smashing Harbhajan for his first six. The offspinner had a chance to make amends in the very next over when Russell skied one off Tahir, but Harbhajan dropped it at mid-wicket. Tahir had got Russell three times in seven IPL innings prior to this game, but couldn't add to the tally.
Dropping Russell on 8 could have proved costly, for he then mixed caution and aggression to bat through the rest of the innings. Russell's strike rate crossed 100 only in the last over, but that was because the pitch and situation demanded such an approach.
CSK knew they had to hit as much as they could in the Power Play. Shane Watson and Suresh Raina started aggressively but perished within the Power Play looking to hit Narine.
They still managed 40 for 2 in the first six, setting up a platform for some steady batting. Du Plessis and Rayudu added 46 for the third wicket, ensuring KKR didn't sneak back in.