Chennai: Suresh Raina's maiden IPL century - he had missed one by two runs in 2009 when the electronic scoreboard at Centurion incorrectly flashed 100 instead of 98 - drove table-toppers Chennai Super Kings to their seventh consecutive victory and ensured their qualification for the IPL 6 play-offs.
Raina's excellent innings needed 53 balls and took Chennai from 27 for 1 to 186 for 4, a total that Kings XI Punjab threatened to overhaul thanks to a belligerent partnership between Shaun Marsh and David Miller but in the end they came up 15 runs short. With defeat, Punjab joined Delhi Daredevils and defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders as the third team that needs to win all its remaining matches to have a shot at making the play-offs.
Raina walked out at his customary No. 3 spot in the fourth over after Wriddhiman Saha fell for a run-a-ball 18 to Parvinder Awana, and had a nervous moment when a throw from Piyush Chawla called for several replays. Raina's bat was in the air but when the bails were dislodged, it looked as if his gloves were across the line. The umpire gave him the benefit of doubt and Raina grabbed the opportunity to initially move along with deftly placed shots in the arc square of the wicket and coolly-collected tucks off the pads. After nine overs, CSK were 55 for 1.
The surge attempted by Raina in the tenth over, during which he hit David Hussey for four and six, was briefly stalled by a brace of wickets. Michael Hussey was stumped off Chawla for 35 looking to launch over mid-on, and attempting a second MS Dhoni was excellently run out by R Sathish. Raina took a few deliveries to gather himself and then waded into Manpreet Gony with a few sixes. Sathish was then slashed for two fours while Morkel drilled a big six off the same bowler down the ground.
Morkel fell for 23 in the penultimate over, after putting on 74 in 38 deliveries. On 89 for the last over, Raina faced a dot, scampered two, drove six over long-off, hustled even faster for a couple more to get to 99, and then steered the fifth behind point to reach three figures. From 69 for 1 after ten overs, Chennai had scored 117 in the last ten.
Punjab lost three wickets to set their chase off on the wrong note - two of them to the very reliable Mohit Sharma - but Marsh and Miller combined or a superb partnership of 95 in 50 balls to give CSK a scare. The pair started strongly and ensured not an over went by when they didn't miss the boundary. Marsh struck Raina for a four and two sixes in a 19-run over, Miller lofted Ashwin for a straight six, and Bravo was squeezed wide of point for Marsh's fifty in 34 balls. Ten came off Ashwin's last over, which meant that by the 15th over, Dhoni had bowled out Mohit Sharma, Ashwin and Morkel.
A couple fours off Dwayne Bravo brought the equation down to 54 from four, then Chris Morris was smoked for consecutive boundaries by Miller. After five good deliveries, Bravo conceded sixth off the last of the 18th over with Miller creaming the ball over extra cover superbly. Morris gave up 11 from his last five balls but Miller missing the final one proved massive for both teams.
Defending 19 from six balls, Bravo bowled a terrific over. First ball, he yorked Marsh (73); on the second, Gurkeerat Singh miscued his first ball, leaving Miller to collect another fifty in 25 balls; off the fifth, Bravo speared in a yorker that did for Sathish. Considering he bled 31 from his first three overs, that was a superb last six balls from Bravo.