In the Indian Premier League 2018 so far, only three matches out of 12 have been won by the team batting first, one of them a DLS-aided victory for Rajasthan Royals against Delhi Daredevils in Jaipur. Until Sunday (April 15), Rajasthan’s was the only win for a team batting first in 10 matches, bringing to light the disparity between chasing and setting a target in Twenty20 matches.
On Sunday, though, Rajasthan racked up 217 for 4 against Royal Challengers Bangalore in a 19-run win and Kings XI Punjab held off a late Chennai Super Kings charge to win by four runs after stacking up 197 for 7.
Stephen Fleming, the Chennai coach, said chasing a total was a definite advantage in the game’s shortest format, because it brought ‘certainty in an uncertain game’. Fleming had seen MS Dhoni, the Chennai captain, smash 79 not out off 44 balls to bring his side close to a third successive stirring win in a chase, but eventually the team fell just short.
“When you chase, you get certainty in an uncertain game, so you can manage your risk,” explained Fleming at the press conference after the match. “You saw MS managing his risk almost to perfection today. There were a couple of good yorkers from Mohit Sharma that denied us the win. The way the game is going, there is certainty around managing risk and the ability of players to hit. To chase down 15-16 or 18 an over is probably one of the key factors now. But there’s also dew and there’s no deterioration, so it (the pitch) doesn’t get slower.
“In fact, conditions often get better. So when you look at it just from a strategic point of view, if you know how many you have to get and how hard you have to go, then you’re probably getting an advantage. But there were a couple of performances today where teams won batting first, so nice to even up the ledger in that sense.”
Despite the defeat, Fleming said his side was in a good space, having won two out of three matches and coming very close to winning the third. And all this despite suffering injuries to key players, with Mitchell Santner ruled out before the tournament began, Kedar Jadhav hurt during the tournament opener against Mumbai Indians, Suresh Raina ruled out for a couple of matches during the game against Kolkata Knight Riders, and Lungi Ngidi flying back home after a bereavement. And to top that, Chennai had to move out of their MA Chidambaram Stadium fortress after just one match, with the MCA Stadium in Pune their new home.
“I’m proud of the character we’re showing,” said Fleming. “We’re hanging in. I’d love a game where we bowl a team out for 140 and chase it down, but the competition is very even. Wickets at the top are important, so we’ve got to reassess that and make sure we’ve got the right combination. But look, we’re not too far away. We’re scrapping and competing in each game so far and we almost got across the line today, so there’s not too much to moan about. But we’re always searching and looking to get better, and there are areas where we can improve.
“It’s still pretty early in the tournament, and we’ve had two wins out of three with injuries and a bit of drama with our home ground, so we’ll probably take that.”
On the defeat against Punjab, Fleming said the game had followed an expected pattern, though the normal tendency after a close defeat was to analyse the minutiae of what had gone wrong.
“When you’re four runs short you always think, ‘Where’s that four runs?’ Is it a misfield, is it a good shot, or some good cricket? I think the guys tried very hard in terms of increasing the run-rate,” offered Fleming. “It was just one of those games, sometimes it’s hard to momentum through the innings and then it changes and the fielding team becomes defensive and we go completely offensive. That happens around the 16-over mark, so that was pretty much the script today.”