Chepauk Super Gillies powered into the finals of the inaugural Tamil Nadu Premier League with a comprehensive 17-run defeat of Lyca Kovai Kings in front of a partisan crowd at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Saturday (September 17).
Chepauk's path to victory was setup by a fluent 76-run third-wicket stand between Vasanth Saravanan and KH Gopinath, who reprised their calculative approach to building a partnership from four nights ago to power their team to 161. Left-arm spinner Sai Kishore and R Alexander then combined to register joint figures of 4 for 45 in eight overs before Antony Dhas claimed three-lower wickets to choke Kovai's staid efforts and set a final date with the Albert Tuti Patriots.
The home side's victory push received significant thrust when captain Rajagopal Sathish elected to bat on a surface that, over the course of the tournament, has slowed down considerably in the second half of the match. The table-toppers in the group stages received a rousing ovation from the 19,000-strong crowd at the famous stadium. The now-customary fireworks display for the knockouts and a countdown on the big screen from Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo helped create the ideal din for a match of this stature.
There was no dearth on the field either as Kovai seamer Krishnamoorthy Vignesh got the game underway with a volley of short-pitched deliveries at Gopinath that drew uncomfortable responses on each occasion. The opener broke his bat in two with an attempted pull off the first of the bouncers and later had to resort to awkward fends as the wiry seamer bowled at a sprightly pace.
If there were early nerves, surviving the first over served well to settle Gopinath down. For a far more composed version of himself turned up at the change of ends. M Mohammed was cut, lofted and flicked for successive boundaries before an ill-directed short delivery thudded into the TNPL hoardings at the unused 'K' stand of the stadium. It was just the impetus Chepauk sought after a nervy start, but one that was quelled almost immediately.
A highly-impressive Vignesh was rewarded with the wicket of Thalaivan Sargunam when the batsman missed an attempt to scoop the ball over the keeper, only for the ball to knock off the top of his off-stump. Introduction of spin in the form of B Arun paid instant dividends for Kovai as the promoted Gowjith Subhash found the deep mid-wicket fielder, one of two strategically stationed fielders on the leg side for the around-the-wicket angle.
The dismissal, with only 24 runs on the board, brought the senior Saravanan together with his well-known batting ally Gopinath. The 37-year-old Saravanan brought with him much-needed calm to the Chepauk proceedings. He took his time to settle in before plundering 17 runs off Arun, giving the home side a solid powerplay score of 50.
To their credit, Kovai did manage to keep a lid on things despite the flourishing partnership. The next four overs bowled by medium pacers Harish Kumar and MK Shivakumar cost only 23, forcing even the compact Saravanan to chance his arm with shots over the infield. What they missed in the occasional boundary, they more than made up for it with their rapid running between the wickets. The scoreboard was kept ticking over and when the occasional loose ball presented itself, the duo ensured it wasn't missed out on. Soon after Saravanan completed a 35-ball half-century, Gopinath fell to the returning Mohammed for 44, ending a 76-run second-wicket stand. One brought two for Kovai as Saravanan timed a flick, a little too sweetly for his liking, straight to the deep square leg fielder.
At 106 for 4 after 15 overs, the home side were in danger of ending with a sub-par total. But captain Rajagopal Sathish (18 off 13) and U Sasidev (16 off 10) put on a brisk 36-run stand to help Chepauk go past 160 despite the frugal efforts of Vignesh (2 for 21) at death.
Kovai Kings' chase of a tricky total, on what has typically been a two-paced wicket, got off to an earnest start. After receiving an early reprieve from a leaden-footed Sai Kishore at short third-man, Anirudh Sita Ram got off to a sparkling start, striking successive fours of Ashwath Mukumthan. Chepauk's five-wicket hero from the last game, Mukumthan, conceded 19 off his second allowing the visitors to motor away to 37 off the first four.
As has often been the case in the tournament, Sathish bowled himself in the powerplay to shield his relatively inexperienced teammates. This time, he also gave his side the much-needed breakthrough, that of Sita Ram (23 off 15) who edged an attempted cut to keeper. Almost immediately, Sathish turned to his left-arm spinner Sai Kisore, who returned his captain's backing with a wicket maiden, transferring the pressure right back onto the batting side, who until then looked set to outdo even Chepauk's powerplay efforts. Ravi Kumar Rohith, who fell LBW to the left-arm spinner, was followed to the dug out by his captain Syed Mohammad as Chepauk steadily moved into the ascendancy. In a space of three overs, Kovai had lost three for 15 after their rapid start.
L Suryaprakash propelled himself to an unfussy 38 in a 32-run stand with Tarun Srinivas as Sathish kept his the slow and medium pacers on the attack after the powerplay to take advantage of the considerably slower conditions on offer. His untimely dismissal, cutting upishly against a wide delivery from Alexander, left Kovai needing 71 from the final seven, a task that was compounded with Srinivas getting stumped off the left-arm spinner's next over.
Akshay Srinivasan kept Kovai's faint hopes alive with a couple of lusty blows but the team's desperation for quick runs was an invitation for Antony Dhas to get amongst the wickets. His three-wicket haul at the death ended what was otherwise a promising campaign for the Lyca-owned franchise.
Brief scores: Chepauk Super Gillies 161/7 in 20 overs (Vasanth Saravanan 52, KH Gopinath 44; K Vignesh 2-21) beat Lyca Kovai Kings 144/9 in 20 overs (L Suryaprakash 38, Akshay Srinivasan 27; Antony Dhas 3-21, Sai Kishore 2-17) by 17 runs.
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