It’s an Indian Premier League with a difference - no roaring stadium audience, no matches in India and teams secured in their own bubbles. However, much to the delight of cricket fans across the world, the 13th edition of the IPL finally began on Saturday with a clash between 2019 champions Mumbai Indians and runners-up Chennai Super Kings.
Canned applause and stadium noise almost made it feel like the IPL of usual and the players, some of whose fitness came under social media’s pointed glare, did their best to play the match as per normal despite it being an empty stadium.
CSK won the toss and MS Dhoni, in his first match since announcing his retirement from international cricket, elected to field first.
The CSK pacers failed to make any inroads early on, with MI openers Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock powering the men in blue to 45/0 in four overs.
It was the spin magic of Piyush Chawla that finally broke the partnership, dismissing skipper Sharma for 12.
De Kock fell in the very next over - hitting Sam Curran straight to midwicket, out for 33 off 20 balls.
Suryakumar Yadav and Saurabh Tiwary did a good job in rebuilding the innings from thereon. The duo struck a 44-run partnership in 5.5 overs. Deepak Chahar brought Yadav’s innings of 17 to an end at the end of the 11th over, Mumbai 92/3.
Mumbai, which boasts of a solid middle order consisting of Keiron Pollard and the Pandya brothers - Hardik and Krunal, still looked good for a defendable total. However none of them ended up making much of an impact.
Tiwary, playing his first IPL game since 2017, was the next to go, caught by a well-judged catch by Faf du Plessis off the bowling of Ravindra Jadeja, for a well made 42 off 31 balls.
Hardik started well with two sixes off Jadeja, in his first five balls, but yet another good catch by du Plessis saw him back in the pavilion, out for 14. Tiwary and Hardik both gone in the 15th over, Mumbai 124/5.
Krunal barely made the scoreboard tick over, dismissed by Lungi Ngidi for 3 at the start of the 17th over.
Pollard’s 18 off 14 balls and small contributions by the lower order meant that Mumbai only managed 26 runs off the last 24 balls, ending their innings at 162/9.
Chennai made a disastrous start to their innings, both openers - Shane Watson and Mural Vijay, back in the hut within the first two overs.
At 6/2 and with no Suresh Raina to bolster their batting, Chennai placed its hopes in the hands of the experienced du Plessis and Ambati Rayudu and the duo delivered.
Du Plessis took on a more supporting role as Rayudu exploded at the other end - the pair adding 115 for the third wicket.
Rayudu’s innings of 71 off 48 balls, consisting of six fours and three sixes, was finally brought to an end by Rahul Chahar, leaving Chennai will 42 to get off 24 balls.
That brought Jadeja to the crease.
Mumbai did not bowl either Hardik, who might still be recovering from a back surgery, or Pollard. This meant that the 18th over was handed to Krunal with Chennai needing 29 to win.
Krunal began the over with the wicket of Jadeja. And much to the surprise of all watching (and tweeting), Dhoni sent Sam Curran instead of coming in himself. And once again, the skipper proved just how sharp a cricketing brain he possesses.
Curran slammed the fourth and fifth ball of Krunal’s over for a six and a four respectively before smashing Bumrah for a six at the start of the next over. He was dismissed for 18 off 6 balls but had done enough damage to Mumbai’s cause by then.
Chennai won the match by 5 wickets. Du Plessis remained not out on 58 off 44 balls.