Prior to the start of the IPL, Kings XI Punjab captain R Ashwin promised unpredictability. One of those unpredictable decisions was bringing in Chris Gayle against a team he has struggled against.
That move paid rich dividends immediately: Gayle hammered a 33-ball 63, Kings XI blazed a 75-run Powerplay and a total of 197 proved four runs beyond Chennai Super Kings in their third final-over finish this season.
A steady approach early in Super Kings' chase left them with 67 runs to get off the final four overs. But that strategy also meant they conserved resources for later, including MS Dhoni himself. Despite a stiff back, Dhoni turned back the clock to when he executed chases by putting himself in a head-to-head position with the bowler.
Against Kings XI, it seemed like that scenario would never come. He was on 33 off 28 balls, with Super Kings requiring 65 off 21 balls. And then he began another assault, albeit a forced move, not a calculated one.
Dhoni hit three fours and three sixes from that position, and took Kings XI's death-overs specialist Andrew Tye for 19 runs off the penultimate over. That left Super Kings with 17 required off the final over, the same equation they successfully achieved in their last game against Kolkata Knight Riders.
Super Kings were satisfied with a single off the first ball off the final over because it left Dhoni with his preferred one-on-one battle, against Mohit Sharma. Eventually, three well-executed wide yorkers meant Dhoni lost, narrowly.
Full and wide doesn't work
Gayle's hitting arc is in the arc between long-on and square leg. So, Super Kings' tactics were clear: hang the ball wider to force Gayle to drag the ball into that arc. Gayle's strong shoulders, though, opens up areas on the off side.
Super Kings' bowlers stuck to their plans and Gayle his. He bludgeoned three sixes and four fours through long-off and cover, scoring 39 of his 63 in that area and only venturing into leg-side heaves if the bowlers erred with their original plans.
An efficient middle
In T20s, with one batsman in terrific hitting form, other batsmen tend to bat cautiously, biding their time to keep wickets. In recent T20s, though, teams maximise their score by attacking bowlers from both ends.
KL Rahul hit seven fours in a 22-ball 37. Mayank Agarwal scored 30 off 19 balls, and Yuvraj Singh struck 20 off 13 balls. Effectively, those three batsmen combined to score 87 off 54 balls, which equates to close to 10 runs an over over nine overs. Combined with Gayle's innings, those three cameos ensured that even with a sub-par finish, Kings XI had an above-par total.
Super Kings start slow
In stark contrast, Super Kings' top-four batsmen had an entirely different approach: to accumulate against Kings XI's best bowlers and capitalise on the errant deliveries in an attempt to take a tough chase to the end. In a chase of 198, that approach is arguably riskier than attacking from the outset.
Shane Watson, M Vijay, Ambati Rayudu and Sam Billings all had a strike rate of 140 or under. Together, they scored 81 runs off 62 balls. That equated to an effective run-rate of 7.83 in a period of 10.2 overs. Despite Gayle and Dhoni making roughly the same impact on their respective team's score, it was that difference in approach that may have cost the Super Kings.