It has been two weeks since the start of the eleventh edition of the Indian Premier League, but the off-field hype and hoopla surrounding two-time champions Chennai Super Kings never seem to end.
In the most recent development surrounding CSK, the team's home games were shifted to Pune from Chennai due to protests related to sharing the water of Cauvery River between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
On Friday, in a goodwill gesture towards the Chennai supporters, the CSK team management decided to sponsor the tickets for hundreds of fans to travel from Chennai to Pune on the Whistle Podu Express. The Gahunje Stadium was consequently flooded by a sea of yellow as MS Dhoni and Co when they were put into bat by Rajasthan Royals skipper Ajinkya Rahane.
Shane Watson and Ambati Rayudu opened the innings for CSK and were welcomed by extremely loud cheers. Stuart Binny got his first game of IPL 11 and was immediately dispatched to two consecutive boundaries by Watson. The cheers grew louder. In the penultimate ball of the first over, Binny bowled a peach of a delivery that took a thick outside edge off Watson's blade. The crowd went into a collective silence as the ball went straight to Rahul Tripathi in first slip.
Tripathi fumbled and the sea of yellow erupted. Watson ensured that the cheers stayed on for the remaining 19 overs as he smashed his way to his 3rd IPL century to set a daunting 205-run target for the Royals.
When CSK picked Watson during the IPL Auctions, the decision was highly criticised, especially considering his poor performance in the previous edition when he turned up for Royal Challengers Bangalore and scored just 71 runs in eight matches.
However, CSK have always had an affinity towards bowling all-rounders right from the time of Albie Morkel to the Chennai outfit's mainstay Dwayne Bravo. Watson was expected to be a perfect foil for Bravo in the middle overs and in the first three matches, the former Australian opener bowled tight spells and provided Dhoni with those important breakthroughs.
The trust in Watson's ability came to fruition on Friday when the IPL veteran sent Royals bowlers on a leather hunt slamming 72 runs off boundaries in his 106-run innings. He also picked up the wicket of Krishnappa Gowtham to end with impressive figures of 1/13 off his three overs.
Though his 2017 IPL form wasn't memorable, Watson had a brilliant run in the Big Bash League and Pakistan Super League with both the bat and ball. The Chennai think tank followed their strategy of favouring experience and picked the burly all-rounder for four times his base price of Rs 1 crore.
Primarily known to have been a batsman who liked swinging the ball across the line towards the leg-side, Watson has evolved as a cricketer improving his overall game. Making changes to his batting style, especially after announcing his retirement from international cricket in 2016, Watson has reinvented himself to make him an indispensable part of the Chennai team in IPL 11.
In his 51-ball century, although Watson did prefer his favourite mid-wicket region (31 percent of his runs came from here), he also scored more than 40 runs on the off-side to deny the bowlers the opportunity to settle into a rhythm. The 37-year-old also ran 22 singles and three twos in a clear display of his fitness levels and to keep the dot balls in check. He almost carried his bat through, getting out only on the penultimate ball of the first innings.
Watson, who captains his BBL and PSL sides, has also been an effective team player doing the duties required off him by the CSK management.
After a few quickfire starts in the first three matches in this edition's IPL, Watson reposed his team's faith by cashing on an early reprieve and scoring an important century to send Chennai Super Kings to the top of the table. It was a clear continuation from his excellent all-round displays for Sydney Thunders and Quetta Gladiators.
On Thursday, 38-year-old Kings XI Punjab opener Chris 'Universe Boss' Gayle smashed the first century of IPL 11 in the clash against Sunrisers Hyderabad. The very next day, a 37-year-old Watson slammed a ton and paved the way for a memorable victory against his previous team. The past two days have been a reminder to the followers of the sport to not write off the ageing workhorses yet.
It has been ten years since Watson picked up the man of the series award for his all-round exploits in 2008 guiding Rajasthan Royals to the title in the first-ever edition of IPL.
Watson's first century in IPL came against Chennai Super Kings at MA Chidambaram Stadium in 2013 when he scored 101 off 61 balls wearing the blue Royals jersey.
On 20 April, facing a familiar blue-jersey team, Watson came out all guns blazing in yellow and won the hearts of the #Yellove crowds, who turned up in scores to support Chennai in their new 'home'.
A lot of things might be contentious with Chennai Super Kings in this edition, but there are two things that have worked like clockwork for the team so far — the display of depth in squad with a different player taking the onus on delivering victories and more importantly, the Chennai-based franchise's unbelievable and unparalleled fan support.