Chennai: Clutch innings from two Australian imports at either end of Pune Warriors 20 overs set up a match-winning total of 159 for 5, which was made to appear like a lot more for Chennai Super Kings against a superb catching performance. Aaron Finch took on a strong CSK bowling attack from the start, dominating an opening stand worth 96, and after a flurry of wickets it was Steven Smith's 16-ball 39 that ensured Pune had a fighting total to defend.
Defend they did, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar striking early blows that crippled the home team and Smith holding three catches to lead a fantastic fielding effort from the visiting team at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Monday. Pune's third Australian player, Mitchell Marsh, played a hand with two big wickets to help choke a Chennai batting lineup missing Michael Hussey by 24 runs.
Crucial to Pune securing their second win of IPL 6 was their best opening stand in league history, thanks largely to Finch who started well by driving Dirk Nannes back past the stumps and over mid-off for firm boundaries as well as getting an inside-edge to fine leg. Against Ravindra Jadeja's left-arm spin he used the crease to make room and cut past cover twice before sashaying to slice over cover-point. With Finch timing the ball well, Robin Uthappa knocked the ball around to get his opening partner back on strike, and Finch responded by pulling and clipping Nannes with precision to take the score to 42 for 0 in five overs.
Finch and Uthappa paced their innings smartly. Finch faced the first ball of the over on six occasions, and four times Uthappa bunted singles off the first ball to get his partner on strike. Uthappa got his first four with R Ashwin's introduction, a sweep going over short fine leg safely, but otherwise continued to tap it around. Finch's first six was off Ashwin, a clean strike over long-off, and then his half-century came up in 32 balls with a top edge to fine leg.
Five tidy overs pulled things back for CSK, especially the 13th in which Jadeja, after being struck for six, had Finch stumped next ball for 67. Ross Taylor, captaining Pune in place of Angelo Mathews due to the ban on Sri Lankans in Chennai, walked out to a run-rate of just over seven but struggled to force the pace. Chris Morris struck on the first ball of the 15th and 17th overs, with Uthappa and Taylor both finding the fielders at long-on, and Marsh slashed Dwayne Bravo to third man.
Pune had slipped from 96 for 1 to 128 for 4 but in Smith they had a clean striker who ensured the team did not squander the good start that Finch delivered. He provided the spark by taking Bravo for fours in the 16th over and turned the screws on CSK as 28 came off the last two overs. Smith's timing was exceptional and he targeted Nannes and Bravo liberally with three sixes, the pick being a reverse flick off the latter that flew into the stands behind third man.
Chennai were let down by a lack of partnerships as Pune's seam bowlers struck telling blows. Bhuvneshwar nipped out Srikkanth Anirudha for 0 in a wicket-maiden opening over, and then had an out-of-form Suresh Raina foxed into chipping to mid-on for 8. Murali Vijay was dropped on 1 by T Suman and kept the runs ticking over but his dismissal to Abhishek Nayar, driving to extra cover on 24, dented CSK. S Badrinath (34) and Jadeja (27) put on 46 without really troubling Pune, and once the stand was broken by Marsh in the 13th over the chase petered out.
Jadeja and Bravo fell in successive overs as the asking rate reached 14, and Smith's third outfield catch proved the most important when MS Dhoni lofted Ashok Dinda to long-off. In the final over Finch held a jumping aerial boundary catch to take out Albie Morkel, an effort appreciated by Pune's coach Allan Donald just a couple feet behind the ropes. That final catch summed up Pune's excellent day in the field.