If Faf du Plessis is impressed by a fielding unit, then you can be sure that it is some unit he is talking about. A day before Chennai Super Kings game against the Delhi Daredevils, Du Plessis reckoned Chennai’s inner ring fielders were the best he had worked with.
This, coming from a man who is among the very best in the world himself. Furthermore, on national duty, he plays for South Africa, which is arguably the best fielding side in the world, the team that has done more than any to modernise fielding.
Chennai were pretty poor in the field in their opening game loss to King's XI Punjab last week. But players and officials were keen to point out afterwards that it was a very, very rare off day for them.
On Monday evening at the Zayed stadium, as they comfortably overcame Delhi Daredevils by 93 runs to kickstart this season, it was difficult to argue with du Plessis’s assessment.
Three outstanding outfield catches within the first five overs saw the back of Delhi’s top order. The South African was at the heart, taking two stunning catches running back over his shoulder each time from mid-off. That came after Suresh Raina ran back from cover to hold on to a miscue from Mayank Agarwal.
To those two add Brendon McCullum and Ravinder Jadeja and if Chennai’s bowling might hamper them this season, their fielding will do everything in its power to make up for it. That inner circle is near-impregnable.
In any case, the bowling was far meaner than it was when failing to defend 205 against Punjab. They made three changes to the line-up, bringing in Ben Hilfenhaus, Mithun Manhas and Ishwar Pandey. Out went Ashish Nehra (which automatically lifts the fielding standards), Pawan Negi and Dwayne Bravo.
The last was an enforced absence and the sole bit of bad news for the two-time champions. The shoulder injury he picked up in the first game has ruled him out for the season. Outside the fielders, Pandey and Hilfenhaus were most responsible in revitalising Chennai. The Australian in particular found evening conditions under the lights particularly helpful, producing beautifully-shaped outswingers to keep Delhi under constant pressure.
To nobody’s surprise, the batsmen had earlier kept up their end of the bargain again. They had begun slowly, but were revived by the batsman who in so many ways symbolises the batting bounty the IPL has reaped for India.
Raina is the league’s all-time leading scorer and, as he cruised to a 19th IPL fifty, showed again why that is the case. As ever there was hustling from the off, the large Zayed stadium outfield perfectly maneouvred for a series of doubles.
In and around those he decorated his hand with the money shots, clean lofts over wide mid-off, little decisive flips over fine leg, a dance-down straight six and those familiar ungainly heaves through off and leg. Chennai accelerated coolly around him, through du Plessis and MS Dhoni.
Their innings crescendoed perfectly. The first fifty came at a run a ball, the next off 33 and the final off just 25. They pillaged 58 runs from the last fours and given how they later fielded, even half that would have seen them home comfortably.
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