Deccan Chargers' pursuit of a second successive title came to an end last night after the Hyderabad team bungled a run chase against Chennai Super Kings, their fellow southern Indian franchise. A night of sloppiness started when they dropped three catches in the first four overs. Those missed chances did not come back to haunt the champions, but chasing a paltry 143 to enter the finals, the Deccan innings resembled a ghost ship as the mid-season gremlins returned.
Adam Gilchrist only mustered 15, Herschelle Gibbs three more; Rohit Sharma and Tirumalasetti Suman made six between them and Andrew Symonds could get no more than 23. It was a sorry scorecard and the Chargers finished 38 runs short, with Doug Bollinger (four for 13), the Australia paceman, doing the damage. "We were always confident," said Muttiah Muralitharan, the Chennai off-spinner, in a post-match TV interview. "The wicket had a slow, punchy bounce and because of that we thought we had a chance.
"When MS Dhoni [the Chennai captain] came back [after his dismissal], he said 'I will take any runs on the board, but 140 will be a good score on this wicket; if we bowl well, we definitely have a chance'. "Of course, Deccan Chargers have a really good batting line-up, so we had to bowl really well. Bollinger and Ravichandran Ashwin did a tremendous job. The first six overs for 20 odd runs and two wickets, that made all the difference. After that, they were left to get more than 120 runs from 14 overs, which is above nine an over. We came in and kept it tight. It all happened."
It was a sad end to a remarkable season for the Chargers, who surpassed the odds and won five games on the trot to reach the semi-finals. Now, they will play Royal Challengers Bangalore tomorrow for a place in the Champions League, while the Super Kings will take on Mumbai Indians a day later for the title. "We played the final two years ago on the same ground [in Navi Mumbai]," said Muralitharan. "We lost on the last ball, so hopefully we will have better luck this time. Mumbai are playing really well, hopefully we will give them a strong challenge."
The Chargers had done well to restrict the Super Kings to 142 for seven, with 46 of those coming from the last five overs. But, in reply, Gilchrist's lean patch continued and Suman did not last long. The Chargers were two down for 23 after the first six overs, which featured 23 dot balls. The painfully slow start led to Sharma's downfall and the defending champions were soon 31 for three. They had 43 on the board by the end of the 10th over and Gibbs departed five runs later. Symonds scratched around for a bit more, but the match was virtually over long before he departed.
"It was definitely a get-able score," said Gilchrist in the post-match TV interview. "Our bowlers did a really good job, but our batting group let our team down. "I thought we had done enough on the field to give ourselves a good chance, but their bowlers did a particularly good job and they held all the chances." Gilchrist, unfortunately, could not say the same about his own fielders. Matthew Hayden was dropped twice off the first five balls he faced. First, RP Singh missed a regulation catch at mid-off when the batsman was on nought and Bodapati Sumanth grassed an even simpler one at gully in the second over.
Suman later missed a simple edge off Suresh Raina at gully. Both batsmen, however, failed to capitalise on their escapes and Chennai were three down for 29. Those early wickets forced MS Dhoni (30) and S Badrinath (37) to adopt a cautious approach and together they carried the score to 81. Then, a few good blows Srikkanth Anirudha (24 from 15 balls) towards the end carried the Super Kings to a score of safety.
* Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi, with agencies