|Indian Premier League, Abu Dhabi:|
|Chennai Super Kings 134-6 (20 overs): Du Plessis 76 (55); Jordan 2-20, A Singh 2-35|
|Punjab Kings 139-4 (13 overs): KL Rahul 98 (42); Thakur 3-28|
|Punjab Kings won by six wickets|
KL Rahul hit a stunning 98 not out from just 42 balls to lead Punjab Kings to victory over Chennai Super Kings.
The India opener hit eight sixes as his side chased down a below-par 134 with seven overs to spare.
Earlier, South Africa’s Faf du Plessis scored 76 as CSK recovered from 61-5, with England’s Moeen Ali dismissed for a duck.
Despite the defeat, CSK remain in second place in the table with their qualification place secured.
Meanwhile, Punjab Kings are in sixth position and unlikely to progress. They are relying on the results of other fixtures to go their way – although this rapid victory will have boosted their net run-rate significantly.
England’s Chris Jordan replaced Nicholas Pooran in the Kings’ side and made an immediate impact, taking 2-20.
Rahul’s masterclass leads the way
The orange cap – awarded to the IPL’s leading run-scorer – was in Du Plessis’ possession at the end of CSK’s innings before Rahul stole it back almost immediately.
The opener provided a batting masterclass, showing brutality down the ground and deft touches past the fielders.
His sublime knock included eight sixes and seven fours – putting an end to any debate about whether the pitch led to CSK’s collapse.
There were not enough runs to chase for him to reach a century, but he was still able to finish the match in style by sending Shardul Thakur – a shining light for CSK with 3-25 – over the ropes.
Rahul had to bat aggressively – as Kings’ chances of making the top four rely on their net run-rate being superior to that of the Kolkata Knight Riders, so they had to chase the total down as quickly as possible.
Despite Rahul’s heroics, it might not have been quick enough. But his stunning innings has given them hope and with the T20 World Cup approaching, India will be delighted with his form.
Rahul’s knock was very different to that of Du Plessis in the first innings – with the South African having to play the anchor role.
His opening partnership with Ruturaj Gaikwad has contributed almost half of their team’s runs during the tournament so far – meaning the team face trouble when one of the top two doesn’t score. Here, Gaikwad fell early and they slipped to 61-5 from 12 overs.
Only a late flurry of runs from Du Plessis in the final overs, including two sixes, allowed CSK to reach 134 – it never felt like enough, and so it proved.
What does the future hold for MS Dhoni?
Former India captain Dhoni has led CSK to three IPL titles and into this year’s play-offs – but his 2021 campaign with the bat has been one to forget.
Having taken some criticism for scoring too slowly in the latter stages of his career, Dhoni scratched his way to 18 from 27 balls in the previous fixture against Mumbai Indians and followed it with a 15-ball 12 against the Punjab Kings.
Granted, he was batting in a tricky situation, coming in with his side struggling at 42-4, but there will be questions surrounding Dhoni’s place in their side with a drastic reshuffle of the IPL coming in 2022.
Speaking at the toss before this game, Dhoni said: “You’ll see me in yellow next year but whether I’ll be playing for CSK, you never know. There are a lot of uncertainties coming up.”
Two new teams are being introduced, and current teams are only allowed to retain four players. Given the success of Gaikwad, Ravindra Jadeja and Shardul Thakur in particular this year, it leaves CSK with a big decision to make regarding their legendary captain.