If there can be a movie equivalent for each of the eight franchises in the Indian Premier League, then the Chennai Super Kings will clearly be The Avengers. Looking at the frequency of orchestrating one champion performance after another, and the inherent ability in the squad to produce superheroes for every situation, such an equivalence doesn't seem too far-fetched.
On 22 May, in sweltering Mumbai conditions, Twenty20 cricket fans were in for a masterclass in chasing as South Africa's Faf Du Plessis saw CSK beat Sunrisers Hyderabad by two wickets in Qualifier 1.
Chasing a 140-run target on a slow wicket is a tough task and it gets tougher when the bowling team is the Kane Williamson-led Sunrisers. Navigating a tricky wicket, du Plessis finally came into his own after an insipid tournament so far.
Though bought by the Chennai side in 2011, du Plessis made his on-field CSK debut in 2012 and had a splendid season, scoring 398 runs. He was part of Chennai's scheme of things till 2015 when the side faced a two-year suspension.
Du Plessis had a very torrid run at the Rising Pune Supergiants, especially in 2017 where he played just two matches in the entire tournament.
In the 2018 auctions, du Plessis, with a base price of Rs 1.5 crore was picked up by Kings XI Punjab for Rs 1.6 crore. However, the Chennai think tank used their "Right to Match" option to welcome the 33-year-old back into the Chennai squad.
However, it wasn't the best of welcomes as CSK faced an unlikely resistance in their home ground and were forced to shift their home venue from Chennai to Pune due to security concerns.
In one of the most telling images of this IPL — one that will be etched in the minds of ardent CSK supporters — du Plessis holds a shoe that was hurled at the Chennai players at the Chepauk Stadium on 10 April during the Cauvery river protests. While the South African batsman brushed it away and was one of the first players to tweet out his regret over the shifting of the home venue due to security threats, there were scores of CSK fans who tweeted out apologies to the man who was a mainstay in the Chennai team since 2012.
A finger injury and a side strain ruled him out of the first few matches of the Chennai side and it was against Sunrisers Hyderabad that du Plessis played his first match of IPL 2018, scoring 11 runs.
Given Ambati Rayudu's form at the top and the need of the hour — be it a power hitter in the middle or an extra bowler for the death overs — the Chennai think tank opted for Sam Billings or David Willey in most matches forcing du Plessis to sit in the dugout.
With Dhoni choosing experience over everything else in the crunch Qualifier against Sunrisers, it was du Plessis, in his fifth match of the tournament, who walked out to open the innings with Shane Watson on Tuesday, looking to chase down 140 on one very tricky Wankhede wicket.
Watson, who took strike against Bhuvneshwar Kumar, edged the fifth ball to the keeper and new batsman Suresh Raina was off the mark straightaway on the sixth ball. One over was done and du Plessis hadn't faced a ball yet.
Raina took Sandeep Sharma to the cleaners in the next over, hitting three boundaries and a single that came off the last ball. Two overs were done and du Plessis hadn't still faced a ball.
It was only in the third over of the 2nd innings that du Plessis finally got on strike.
Siddarth Kaul, the trump card of the Sunrisers this season, steamed in to bowl the fourth over and picked up the wickets of Raina and Ambati Rayudu off successive balls to leave Chennai tottering at 24/3. Du Plessis, who had faced just three balls off the four overs bowled, had until then been more of an onlooker as he saw the top order walking back to the dugout more frequently than him getting the strike.
With Kumar and Kaul bowling in tandem, du Plessis was once again just an onlooker as Dhoni tried to fend away their overs. Six overs were done and the South Africa captain had faced just six deliveries.
After maneuvering past a Carlos Brathwaite over, Rashid Khan came into the attack and bowled one of the best deliveries in this edition of the IPL to send the CSK skipper back to the pavilion. Eight overs were done and du Plessis had scored five runs off the nine balls he faced.
Both du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo were very tentative while facing Rashid's second over and at the end of ten overs, CSK were at 50/4.
In the next three overs, Chennai failed to score a single boundary and also saw Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja make the long walks back to the pavilion as du Plessis remained stranded on the other end looking at more than half the team sitting dejectedly in the dugout. 13 overs done and the South African had faced just 24 deliveries.
A semblance of hope crept up in the minds of the Chennai fans when du Plessis smashed ten runs off the last two balls of the 14th over bowled by Shakib Al Hasan.
Du Plessis not only exhibited his power-hitting skills, but also portrayed his well-learnt knack of playing with the tail. Since Jadeja's wicket in the 13th over, du Plessis faced six off the next nine balls to bring the asking rate down to ten off the last six overs.
With Deepak Chahar proving his innings against Punjab was no fluke, the equations started to get slightly skewed in Chennai's favour but a hugely-disputed catch from Brathwaite off Sharma's bowling saw Chennai tottering at 92/7 after 15 overs. Du Plessis had now faced 31 balls for his 38.
With 48 required off the last four overs, both du Plessis and new batsman Harbhajan Singh were happy to see Rashid off, especially after the opener's quick review ensured the on-field umpire's LBW decision was overturned by the TV umpires.
Harbhajan played four balls off the 17th over bowled by Kaul and the required rate now shot up to 14.33. Du Plessis had managed to face just 35 of the 102 balls bowled in the innings so far.
It wouldn't be much of a stretch to assume that Chennai supporters were readying themselves for the second qualifier on Friday at Kolkata's Eden Gardens.
However, Williamson's decision to toss the ball to Brathwaite in the 18th over backfired miserably as du Plessis smashed 19 runs off five deliveries and scored his first half-century in this IPL.
Shardul Thakur, who took strike in the 19th over, atoned for his sins with the ball and shared the batting responsibilities with du Plessis to score a 5-ball 15 as Kumar was left to defend six runs off the final over with du Plessis on strike.
On the very first ball, du Plessis smashed a straight drive over the bowler's head directly into the sightscreens as he ushered Chennai Super Kings into their seventh IPL final.
In the post-match presentation, Dhoni effused praise on du Plessis and said, "This is where experience counts. It's not easy to not play a lot of games. You visualise what your role is, how you can contribute and Faf has been brilliant."
On Tuesday, when he sent the six flying over the bowler's head to seal a memorable victory over the Sunrisers at the Wankhede, du Plessis ensured that there would be one other telling image of him that would be etched in the memories of ardent Chennai supporters.
An image of him raising both his arms after hitting the winning shot, letting out a guttural cry and soaking in the applause from loyal CSK supporters.
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