The average age of the Chennai Super Kings playing XI last night was 32. In the robust, dynamic and muscular world of T20 cricket, ‘age’ can be the Achilles heel. But once again CSK proved that old is still gold by remaining calm and composed to win the opening match against Mumbai Indians by five wickets in Abu Dhabi.
Three men that played a pivotal role – Ambati Rayudu, Faf Du Plessis and Piyush Chawla drew on all their decade long experience to triumph in the crucial moments. All of these Chennai’s aging warriors are backed strongly by the oldest member of the lot, their leader, MS Dhoni. The 39-year-old doesn’t need to look at data on a laptop his cranial nerves provide him answers after each ball. The first time Dhoni probed for an answer was after the fourth over with Mumbai score reading 45 for no loss.
The first solution was Piyush Chawla. Chawla, 31, has been around since the inauguration of the IPL. He is not your modern T20 prototype. He is not athletic, he generally fields in two spots for majority of the match and he is hardly a glamorous spinner. He bowls skidders from front of the hand, top-spinners and a series of googlies. Importantly, he has bowled all his variations in so many difference circumstances and in different match scenarios. Bowling in the powerplay was never going to faze Chawla. He had seen it all before. Chawla knew what he had to do and Dhoni knew what Chawla was capable of. It wasn’t rocket science it was just mutual agreement based on repeated occurrences.
It is no secret that bowling a leg-spinner to Rohit Sharma early on in his innings is a tactic worth pursuing. Somewhere deep down, Chawla knew Rohit will attempt to loft him, so he teased him with a loopy leg-spinner. It was courageous, but it is exactly what Chennai needed at the time if there were going to stop the Mumbai juggernaut. Gambles don't always work, but they have knack of proving fruitful with exposure. Chawla snaring Rohit was a classic example. There was no wizardry involved. It was just bound to happen. By dismissing Rohit, Chawla had stopped the first tide of momentum. His figures of 1-21 from four overs were a sign of his familiarity with the conditions and situation awareness. These are the aspects that cannot be taught overnight.
Then there was Ambati Rayudu. He had retired last year, but deep down he still had the competitive edge and drive for the sport. He too isn’t flashy or flamboyant, but he has been around for an eternity and has made his living batting on low, skiddy pitches. Walking in at 7 for 2, in pursuit of Mumbai Indians’ 162, the situation was never going to daunt him like a rookie. He was 10 off 12, before shifting gears gradually to be 45 off 28 balls.
Rayudu took a few chances, but in his own mind they were calculated risks. Taking risk at the right time also requires astute judgement and it only comes with exposure. Perhaps, the greatest wisdom one acquires with age is reading the opponent's mind. After Bumrah overstepped in the sixth over, Rayudu could immediately sense the bowler's frustration. He knew the fast bowler would hurl a bouncer, so he went deep in his crease gave himself room and smashed it over long-on for a maximum.
Rayudu had been part of the Mumbai set-up for six years so he would have known Bumrah’s ploy was to make the ball rise above his waist from back of a length. Rayudu decided to stayed leg side of the ball and flashed hard. He had out thought the Mumbai Indians bowlers and seized the momentum by taking 14 of Bumrah’s first over. At the end of the night, Rayudu had scored 23 off 14 balls from Bumrah, it was decisive in his well paced innings of 71 from 48 balls that resulted in CSK win.
And there was Faf Du Plessis, the third veteran. He hardly raised a sweat, he was unflustered and knew his job was to bat until the end. There was no panic or mayhem. All these traits can only be inherited by playing an abundance of matches and understanding your own game. With eight players over the age of 30, CSK proved last night that no other team can match their situational awareness during crunch periods of the game. It is also another indication there is no substitute for experience.
The beauty of the IPL is that offers seasoned campaigners like Chawla and Rayudu to apply their years of trade against the upcoming stars. As CSK proved on the opening night, the reflexes of their ageing warriors might be vanishing, but their minds are still sharp.
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