Mumbai Indians outclassed Chennai Super Kings for the third time this season and for the fourth time in a row becoming the first team ever to do so and in the process also secured a place in the final of IPL 2019. Going into the first qualifier, Rohit Sharma's team had already exposed the chinks in the defending champion's armour. It was a question on exploiting those chinks again in this all-important contest, and the league toppers did it with precision and aplomb.
Unlike other teams, Mumbai doesn't fall for Chennai's aura of invincibility. They have identified CSK's top order batting as their weak fort and have squeezed them out in every game this season. CSK's scores in the three meetings this year read 133 all out, 109 all out and 131 for four, barely the makings of a champion team. Mumbai have established this control over CSK batters courtesy of their meticulous planning and precise execution. In fact, we have come to a stage where Chennai's top order seems to have a mental block against the Mumbai bowlers.
On Tuesday night at Chepauk, the tone for the day was set right from the first over where Lasith Malinga gave nothing away, and Faf du Plessis could score just one single off it. Chennai usually doesn't panic after a slow start, but on this occasion, they knew they are up against a relentless bowling attack that will not give them opportunities to come back if they slide too far down.
Mumbai had played the extra spinner for this game, and when Krunal Pandya bowled the second over of the inning, it was apparent that there is going to be a lot of help for the tweakers on this pitch. Du Plessis came close to getting out against Krunal as he tried to free his arms but got a reprieve. In the next over from Rahul Chahar, Faf attempted the same cut shot against and got dismissed.
Raina was taking strike the next over, so Rohit brought on Jayant Yadav from the other end taking Krunal off despite a good last over. Mumbai is known to play their matchups well, and it was clear that Jayant is bowling with a set plan for Raina. CSK got lucky and got a free hit early in the over that Raina duly dispatched for a boundary. That should have settled down Raina's nerves, and he should have tried to play out Jayant and capitalize against other spinners turning the ball into him. But Raina attempted an ugly hoick against the spin that only got the height and no distance allowing Jayant to get under it easily. Watson was the third batsman to fall inside the powerplay to another expansive shot as he gave the left-armer Krunal his first wicket, the matchups for Mumbai doing their job once again.
Murali Vijay briefly showed the right method for this pitch, something Suryakumar Yadav gave a more extended demonstration of later in the night. On a surface like this, you needed to show almost Test match like application and wait for the right ball to attack.
Mumbai was now turning on the squeeze against the Chennai batsmen by drying out the boundaries. In the three games between these teams during this season, Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar have combined figures of 19 overs 76 runs 5 wickets. In none of these games did either of these bowlers go for more than run a ball. CSK spinners, especially Tahir, like to buy out wickets, even if it means going for a few runs. Mumbai spinners thrive on building pressure that results in a wicket for them or the other bowlers. It's this stranglehold of these two spinners that CSK had to break in the first qualifier. Failure to do so was one of the main reasons for their eventual loss.
Dhoni's introduction to the crease brought some much-needed sense of urgency at the crease. He showed the way by picking out Jayant Yadav as the bowler that needed to go for runs and didn't waste any time in making his intentions clear by hitting the off-spinner over long on for a six in the fourteenth over. But the Mumbai bowlers came back strong in the next couple of overs, by generally keeping the ball away from Dhoni's hitting zone. After scoring 15 in the fourteenth over, CSK were expected to get a move on but in the next four overs, despite Dhoni at the crease they could score only 24 runs.
Two sixes in the 19th over took CSK closer to respectability, but Bumrah was his usual self in the twentieth over giving nothing away. 131 was at least 20 runs shot of where CSK would have liked to be after winning the toss and choosing to bat.
MI batsmen showed a sense of urgency from the word go without being too adventurous. Suryakumar Yadav was in sublime touch and despite losing early wickets, saw his team to safety with little help from Ishan Kishan to make it three-nil for his side against Dhoni's perceived invincibles.
There is a chance that CSK will meet MI again in the final on Sunday. If that happens, CSK top-order batsmen will have to put a much better show to avoid their fourth consecutive loss of the season against the same team. Dhoni and Fleming will also have to find a way to break the flow of the game. Mumbai like to plan the entire inning in detail, and you can sometimes dazzle them by pulling out a surprise. Shuffling the batting order and sending someone like Ravindra Jadeja or even Dhoni himself could just be that one move that breaks Rohit's calculations.