By George Binoy (ESPNCricinfo)
A successful chase of a target in excess of 200 is normally furious, full of power and towering shots. Glenn Maxwell and David Miller did it differently for Punjab. They hit only five sixes – three of those after the 15th over, by which time Punjab were firm favourites – and turned the game during a 115-run stand that was driven by Maxwell’s surgical placement and Miller’s calm supporting act. Chennai were overtaken with seven balls to spare.
There were only four notable performers in the game and all of them were overseas players. Maxwell and Miller’s clinical middle-order partnership came after Chennai’s new openers batted as though powered by rocket-fuel. Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith also scored half-centuries and ransacked 123 in 12.4 overs, but their fierce partnership was not the best batting effort on a scorching Abu Dhabi afternoon.
Chasing 205, Punjab had slipped to 52 for 3 in 5.1 overs. Three Indian batsmen had been dismissed – Virender Sehwag, Cheteshwar Pujara and Akshar Patel – and the game hinged on how Maxwell, Miller and George Bailey would fare. Not one to waste time, Maxwell countered R Ashwin’s wide-outside-leg line from round the wicket by reverse-swatting his first ball to the point boundary. That set the tone for an innings filled not only by such unorthodoxy – there were several more reverse-sweeps and pulls – but also by textbook drives and perfectly-timed pushes between mid-off and cover.
Maxwell’s placement was largely impeccable. Most of his airborne shots were into gaps in the outfield, but two were not and Chennai failed to catch them. On 37, Maxwell reverse-swept Ravindra Jadeja but the top edge was fluffed by Ashish Nehra at short third man, and on 77 the substitute Samuel Badree put down a chance at deep square leg. Miller also had a let-off – on 17, two balls after Maxwell’s first reprieve – but it was a much tougher chance that Faf du Plesiss put down at short cover.
Around the time Maxwell passed fifty off his 25th delivery, Miller had scored only a run-a-ball 21. He wasn’t struggling, however. He was playing an excellent second fiddle, turning the strike over and ensuring the pressure didn’t mount though the asking-rate was approaching two a ball.
Punjab needed 113 off 60 balls and took 23 runs off the next two overs. The 13th over from spinner Pawan Negi was the turning point, when Maxwell found the leg-side boundary three times and the cover boundary once to take 22 runs off it. The equation had been hacked to 68 off 42 balls, and Chennai suffered a crippling blow in the next over when Dwayne Bravo dived to try and catch a Maxwell reverse-pull – in vain – and went off the field to nurse an injured right shoulder. MS Dhoni had lost a key death bowler. After Maxwell was bowled for 95, Miller stepped up, carting Ravindra Jadeja for two consecutive sixes in the 17th over to ensure Punjab did not trip close to victory.
While Chennai were left to rue their poor catching and bowling, they were buoyed by how seamlessly their new openers settled in. In seasons past, the Chennai method has been for the openers to bat within themselves in the first half of the innings, setting up a platform for the power-hitters to launch from. But McCullum and Smith are the power-hitters.
Smith played the supporting role – hitting his first six off his 24th delivery in the 10th over – as McCullum ran riot before and after Bailey dropped him on 22. McCullum did not discriminate, treating the less-known Parvinder Awana and the reputed Mitchell Johnson with the same aggression. The ball disappeared into the stands between deep square leg and long-on frequently as Chennai brought up their best Powerplay score in seven seasons – 70 for 0 in six overs.
McCullum got to 50 off 30 balls, Chennai reached 100 off 9.3 overs and Smith brought up his half-century off 37 deliveries. McCullum did slow down after his half-century, scoring only 14 off his next 15 balls before his dismissal, and Chennai lost a bit of momentum during this period. Dhoni remedied that soon enough, and when he walked off for 26 off 11 balls, Chennai were favourites. But nobody told Maxwell and Miller.