Defending champions Chennai Super Kings rode on a 137-run partnership between Michael Hussey and Suresh Raina to defeat the Rajasthan Royals and maintain their unbeaten record at home this season.
After restricting the Royals to 147 for six, Raina (61, 51 balls, 3×4, 1×6) and Hussey (79 not out, 55 balls, 8×4, 1×6) didn’t face problems from RR bowlers during their century partnership.
When Raina was finally dismissed, CSK were just three short of a win.
Earlier, the star performer for the Royals with the bat was Rahul Dravid top scoring with a fluent 66 (51 balls, 10 fours).
Though Chennai’s chase got off to a rocky start, with local boy Murali Vijay being rapped on the pads in the second over off Johan Botha, in-form Hussey and Raina, who seemed to have got back the touch that had deserted him for some time steadily shepherded the team to victory.
The duo showcased a commendable mixture of caution with aggression as they rotated the strike as well as dispatched the loose deliveries to the boundary.
Hussey registered his fourth half century of the tournament while Raina got his second one on trot.
The highlight of their partnership was the running between the wickets as they easily converted ones into twos and twos into threes.
Rajasthan’s cause was not helped by sloppy fielding that saw three overthrows and at least one chance to run out Raina go a begging.
Raina was on 47 then and a wicket could have put pressure on CSK at that critical juncture. While Raina repeatedly clipped the ball to third man during his knock, Hussey played shots all round the ground. A six and a four off left-arm spinner Nayan Doshi was the highlight of his innings.
With 327 runs, Hussey has moved up in the list to be among the top two run-getters with Sachin Tendulkar leading the pack.
Fittingly, he finished off the match with a cross batted pull to midwicket off Siddharth Trivedi.
But things looked starkly different for Chennai earlier in the day, when the Royals threatened to pile up a huge score raking up 81 runs in the first 10 overs of their innings.
However the next 10 overs saw only 66 runs being added with CSK bowlers claiming six wickets in the bargain.
Dravid played fluently before holing out to deep midwicket off Suraj Randiv trying to up the ante.
The other significant contributor was his opening partner Watson, who made 32 (26 balls, 5×4). Watson was an ideal foil for Dravid, but none of the other batsmen crossed 20.
CSK coach Stephen Fleming had said before the Royals match that though his side are unbeaten at home, each of those matches was a scrap, and this was no exception. Outclassed in the first ten overs, CSK bounced back in the second half of the match, refusing to let their heads drop and bowling a probing length.
It earned dividends, as most of the Royals players threw their wickets away after the opening stand of 81 had been broken.
The Royals’ disintegration started when Watson was dismissed to a stunner of a catch by Shadab Jakati who plucked out a murderous drive over long on that was sailing over his head.
After a sober start, in which Dravid and Watson collected only 22 runs in the first four overs, the Royals started upping the ante, with 14 runs coming in the fifth over and the team’s 50 coming up in only 6.4 overs.
In the 10 boundaries he hit, there were a bunch of back foot punches over midwicket, three fours off Suraj Randiv in a single over that even included a reverse sweep, and a cut over point of a short, rising ball from Morkel.
He followed it up with three more well-taken boundaries off Ashwin and Jakati before bringing up his fifty in 37 balls (9 fours).
Dravid, who has often been guilty of failing to convert starts this season, played positively and looked at ease right from the start.
Former India U-19 captain Ashok Menaria, who followed Watson, was dismissed shortly after when he impatiently tried to clear long on off a Ashwin delivery.
RR’s star performer Johan Botha, followed shortly after, caught off a leading edge taken by Suresh Raina off Jakati for 8.
After Ross Taylor and Ajinkya Rahane had shown signs of leading a fightback, both fell off successive balls in the 19th over to Morkel. A victory in this match will take the Royals top of the table till at least later in the day when a Mumbai Indians win over Pune Warriors in a local derby would see Warne’s side slip to second.
A fifth successive CSK home win would see Dhoni’s men, currently fourth, enter the top three positions.