Twenty-seven needed off eight balls. Mohammed Siraj had just bowled an excellent wide yorker to MS Dhoni. He attempted an encore and ended up overpitching it, but it was still a hard-to-hit low full-toss.
Not hard, however, for this Dhoni. The vintage Dhoni. He bent his back knee, reached out for the ball, opened the face of the bat, and scythed it over point for six. That it cleared the boundary was down to Dhoni's sheer power. Siraj was gobsmacked. The Chinnaswamy Stadium was gobsmacked. The Chennai Super Kings dugout was gobsmacked. Those who doubted whether Dhoni still had it were gobsmacked. He ultimately finished it - like only he can - with a mighty six over wide long-on, which evoked memories of that shot that won India the 2011 World Cup.
"It was a Dhoni special and an amazing win," CSK coach Stephen Fleming said. "We have some players who are experiencing this for the first time in our side; they were absolutely gobsmacked the way he finished this game... That one shot over point towards the end of the innings was one of the top three shots I have ever seen. I've seen a few in this game itself, with AB de Villiers, and in the context of the game, taking the score down to 21 was just ice-cool."
The six over point narrowed the equation to 21 off seven balls. Popcorn was now bursting in Siraj's head. Dhoni, in contrast, looked like a happy-go-lucky kid munching popcorn and watching his favourite movie on the eve of a big exam. This match was down to one man against another. Dhoni v Siraj. This was how the Dhoni of old used to deal with chases.
Having seen Dhoni pepper the leg-side boundary, the plan from Siraj was to bowl wide yorkers. A little over a week ago, Mohit Sharma had denied Dhoni at the death with the same plan. But here was Dhoni scaring Siraj witless. The next three balls were all wides - two for width and one for height.
"His [Dhoni's] ability to let balls go for wide and his presence of mind never ceases to amaze," Fleming said. "We haven't seen it as much, the gaps between [such] innings have been bigger, but in this IPL his batting has been excellent, and the innings today was one of the best ones I've ever seen."
That it was an atypical Chinnaswamy pitch made Dhoni's assault all the more remarkable. The ball was gripping and turning. Case in point: Yuzvendra Chahal's ripping legbreak that stormed through the defences of Ravindra Jadeja. When Dhoni arrived, CSK were 74 for 4, with the asking rate reading 12.
Dhoni has been a notoriously slow starter in T20 cricket of late, but he teed off right away on Wednesday night. He dashed down the track to his second ball and carted Pawan Negi over midwicket for six. Against Chahal, Royal Challengers Bangalore's gun bowler, though, Dhoni adopted a more measured approach and scored seven off seven.
Once Chahal completed his quota, Dhoni lined up Negi and drilled him for two more sixes, including one that hit the glass of the press box. He opened up his hips, generated power with his bottom hand, and nailed it over the sightscreen. All of that done with a stable base. Earlier in the night, AB de Villiers had provided a masterclass with a variety of sweeps and scoops. Dhoni doesn't do sweeps and scoops. His thing is to power the ball in the arc between midwicket and long-off. A stable base and a smooth swing has helped him rediscover the power.
It came to the fore again when he tore up Corey Anderson. Every time Anderson pitched it up outside off, Dhoni smoked it over the long-on boundary. The two were up against each other in the last over with CSK needing five off three balls. Dhoni anticipated the wide yorker, jumped across his stumps, got underneath the ball, and launched it for six.
Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Mark Wood and David Willey all rose with the Chinnaswamy and screamed in delight. Dwayne Bravo wrapped his captain in a hug, and Harbhajan Singh lifted him off the floor. Dhoni was front and centre, keeping a poker face. Welcome back, Thala.