The Chennai Super Kings pride themselves in being a big-game team. Cometh the moment, cometh CSK has usually been the case in the IPL and to a certain extent the CLT20 over the past several years.
However, on a stunning day in the CLT20 semifinals in Jaipur, the much-vaunted CSK, possibly playing their final game before the team is broken up before the start of the next IPL season, collapsed quicker than a house of cards, handing the purring Rajasthan Royals a convincing 14-run win.
The Royals, looking for their 13th straight victory in Jaipur, posted a decent 159 for eight in their 20 overs, largely thanks to Ajinkya Rahane's splendid 70.
With CSK pulling things back with the ball brilliantly in the final five overs, the target, on a good batting track, was not expected to be enough against CSK's strong batting lineup.
However, Pravin Tambe and the rest of the Royals bowlers, aided by a couple of atrocious run outs, took the game away from CSK as the Chennai side finished on 145 for eight to give Rajasthan that 13th win in a row at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium.
The game got so close only because of an outstanding 73-run partnership for the eighth wicket between R. Ashwin and Chris Morris, which caused a few worry lines to come across Rahul Dravid's face; but in the end the Royals deservedly held on for the win.
The Royals will now face the winner of the match between the Mumbai Indians and Trinidad & Tobago in the final in Delhi on Sunday.
If there ever was a perfect demo of a train-wreck T20 chase, this was it. CSK, from start to finish, looked uncomfortable and thoroughly out of sync - very unlike of the side in yellow it must be said.
Murali Vijay walked in along with Michael Hussey, with the former determined to get himself and everyone else batting with him run out some way or the other.
Vijay first sold Hussey down a dead end with no escape, before he himself, after flirting a couple of times with run outs, decided to keep giving the Royals the opportunity with a cherry on top - which Sanju Samson accepted with glee.
After the two run outs of the openers, it was down to the in-form Suresh Raina to do the repair work and set the platform for the likes of M.S. Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo.
However, the CSK wicket-train showed no signs of abating as one batsman after the other fell like nine pins, with soon-to-be 41-year-old Pravin Tambe (three for 10) coming to the fore for the Royals.
In the blink of an eye, Subramaniam Badrinath, Dhoni, Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja had all gone, with the final nail in the CSK coffin coming when Raina (29, 23b, 4x4), the only remotely settled batsman, holed out in the 13th over, leaving CSK on 72 for seven.
Morris (26 n.o., 17b, 3x4) and Ashwin (46, 28b, 3x4, 3x6) did their best to salvage something, giving the Royals a real scare with a partnership of 73 from 43 balls, taking it to 23 from the last over; but the damage was too much to repair as the Royals progressed to their first ever CLT20 final.
Earlier, asked to bat first by M.S. Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane (70, 56b, 6x4, 2x6) was at his anchoring best yet again, before some nice bowling by CSK in the final five overs pulled the innings back, when at one point the Royals looked on course for a score well above 170.
Rahul Dravid, in possibly his last game as a pro, started things off with a trademark cracking four through the covers, raising hopes of the Indian legend pulling a vintage out of the cellar for one night only.
However, as has been the case throughout the tournament, Dravid just could not carry on, playing one onto to his stumps off Chris Morris, who replaced Albie Morkel in the starting XI for CSK.
Kevon Cooper was sent in as a pinch-hitter and for three deliveries off Mohit Sharma, the ploy seemed like a masterstroke.
The West Indian smashed three nice boundaries in a row -- first a six over point, and the other two fours through the covers. But the party stopped there as Sharma came back in the final ball of the over which had gone for 15 runs, with another drive from Cooper (14 in 7) flying straight to Subramaniam Badrinath at cover.
So, it was now up to Rahane and that bright young Royals batsman Sanju Samson, who seemed like he was in the mood for another score of note.
Rahane was looking his usual best, smashing drives through the offside with little fuss as Samson looked to give the opener good company.
Unfortunately, though, for the Royals, a little rush of blood from Samson (11, 10b, 1x4), saw him holing out to R Ashwin off Jason Holder.
Shane Watson, who has been pretty sedate by his remarkably high standards in CLT20, came in looking to provide the impetus, and did that fairly well with a 23-ball 32 (4x4).
Rahane and Watson put on 59 in just 6.3 overs for the fourth wicket as the Royals set themselves up for a score near 170.
However, Watson's wicket came at an inopportune time for the Royals, with Morris, who finished with commendable figures of 4-0-25-2, breaking the crucial partnership in the first ball of the 16th over.
Brad Hodge, in tremendous form, could not find the final onslaught and neither could Stuart Binny as the Royals lost their way a little bit in the final five overs.
Dwayne Bravo bowled a brilliant final over, picking up three wickets while giving away just four runs, as the Royals went from 121 for three in 15 overs to end up on 159 for eight, as the last 30 deliveries yielded just 38 runs for the loss of five wickets.
However, even of the Royals would have walked off after the first innings a little disappointed with their efforts, no-one could have predicted the kind of collapse that CSK would suffer in their reply.
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