Chennai Super Kings celebrate their victory in IPL 2011 final © AFP
Chennai Super Kings celebrate their victory in IPL 2011 final © AFP


By Jamie Alter


There is something to be said about a franchise that retains the nucleus of its successful squad over three seasons and then fights to buy back other key performers. Every player retained or repurchased by Chennai Super Kings (CSK) has proven the decision was correct, and in the final it was Murali Vijay and Ravichandran Ashwin who chose to underline that statement.


Like in the 2010 Champions League, which CSK clinched on the back of some very good cricket, the stars were local talent. Vijay was the highest run scorer of that tournament; Ashwin the highest wicket-taker. On a steaming night in Chennai, Vijay and Ashwin contributed starring roles at either end of the two innings, and the sum of those two parts was a second IPL title for the most successful Twenty20 franchise ever.


“He had a twinkle in his eye today,” was Michael Hussey’s take on his opening partner. “He was very focused, very determined today. It was a terrific innings.”


Vijay had failed to convert starts in IPL 2011, but chose the biggest platform to be counted. It was as if he was determined to atone for a slew of injudicious dismissals. In the previous game he played across the line and was caught in front. Before that, during the loss against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Vijay had poked at one outside off stump. A brilliant yorker did for him against Kochi Tuskers Kerala, but in the match prior to that Vijay had got to 35 before he fell to a full toss. He had been beaten in flight against Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals; against Deccan Chargers he had backed away to an arm ball. Those three dismissals to spin had been single-digit innings.


In the final, there were no half-measures. His 95 was one of the purest innings you could expect in Twenty20s. Not violent, no hacks. It included effortless pick-up shots over the infield and the shot he has made his own: the one in which he is able to take a length ball, not driveable or pullable, and whip it over midwicket with a swing of the bat.


His innings began with a lovely pick-up six in the second over, and that shot set the tone. With Hussey, Vijay put on a record opening stand for the first wicket. It was an uncomplicated partnership, one dominated by fluent and proper cricket shots. Vijay’s cool was marvellous to watch and was further testament to his talent. While Hussey worked around nudging and deflecting the ball and threw in the odd big hit, Vijay began with flashy shots and then settled for singles and doubles. It was a perfect mix of aggression and control.


There wasn’t to be a century. On 92, Vijay cramped up. He bent over, sucking up air. After hobbling three singles, he summoned for a runner. Barely able to stand on his feet, Vijay fell going for a big shot on the off side. He had done his job splendidly, however, and his efforts duly earned Vijay the Man-of-the-Match award.


With the ball, it was that man Ashwin who struck with the new ball. This is a role he was given by captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2009, and Ashwin has thrived with the responsibility of coping with pressure and taking wickets. For the second match running he got Gayle cheaply: the first ball pitched and turned sharply, the second was closer and had Gayle in two minds as it broke away, and the third … well the third was the sucker delivery. The set-up had been crafty – two off-breaks and then the slider. Gayle, looking to cut, was surprised as the ball hurried on and got big on him, and nicked to Dhoni.


CSK and the stadium erupted, knowing that the match was over as a contest. Ashwin was brought to the ground by his team-mates and after running a hand through his dishevelled hair, got back to the job at hand. It wasn’t long before he pulled out the carom ball, which did for Mayank Agarwal.


Ashwin was taken off after an opening spell of 2-0-8-2 and came back on for the 11th over. Daniel Vettori was taken out first ball with a carom ball and Ashwin rounded off a memorable night with figures of three for 16.


“I’m not too sure what to say,” said Ashwin after the match when asked how he had taken to the role of new-ball bowler. “It is good to get that opportunity and I’m glad it’s worked. I am really enjoying working with the new ball. There wasn’t any plan for Gayle, but I was always confident of getting him. He’s a left-hander and by job is to get the ball to spin away. I just wanted to take him on.”


Ashwin and Vijay have blossomed under the CSK canopy. Neither was a big name in 2008, when the tournament began, but they have both risen. Their rise has been linked with CSK’s rise as a Twenty20 powerhouse. Today they, along with Dhoni, are the face of the franchise. Both have earned places in India’s limited-overs squads on the basis of the IPL. They have contributed to two IPL wins and a CLT20 title. As long as they keep putting in such performances, CSK will continue to thrive.


(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. He is the author of two books, The History of World Cup Cricket and Field of Dreams: The Story of the Dr. DY Patil Sports Stadium. His twitter feed is @jamie_alter)