It was Chennai Super Kings' 11th match in IPL 2019. Shane Watson has played each of them. As a pure batsman. Coming into the game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, he had a best score of 44, only two scores over 30, and five single-digit scores including two ducks.
Not many other teams would have kept him in the XI. But MS Dhoni, and Super Kings, think differently about these things - they don't like change unless they can help it.
Prior to the game, we asked: does Watson need a break? It was a valid question, but as with most questions asked of Dhoni, it fell somewhat flat a day later as the 37-year old opener struck a fantastic 96 off 53.
Did you listen to him after the game on the live broadcast? "I was well due for runs, that's for sure. I can't thank Stephen Fleming and MS Dhoni (enough) for keeping the faith in me," Watson said. "Most other teams I've played in, I'd have been dropped a few games ago. So for them to keep the faith in me, (for) knowing I've got an innings like this in me, I sincerely do appreciate it."
An interesting stat: Watson has been the batsman to be dismissed the most times in the Powerplay this season. Similar to the final last year, he did not score a run of his first six balls today, but saw off that tricky period and started targeting the weaker links. Rashid Khan doesn't usually fit that bracket but Watson certainly made him look like one, scoring 30 runs off 13 balls, with three fours and two sixes.
Is Manish Pandey the answer to Sunrisers' No. 3 question?
The Sunrisers batting has been about David Warner and Jonny Bairstow. That's where it has begun, and that's where it has ended. Till Tuesday, when Manish Pandey stepped up after Bairstow fell for a duck.
It's a double-edged sword when the opening batsmen do as well as Warner and Bairstow have done this season. They have scored a lot of runs and used up a large chunk of the balls. That has occasionally left the middle-order batsmen with not much time. But, when the Warner-Bairstow combine has failed to fire, the batsmen to follow haven't quite done what they were expected to.
Prior to this game, coach Tom Moody confessed to being confused. "When you have that dominance up front, your middle order gets left in the dark. They get very little opportunities," he said and added, "There's been a couple of moments in the games we've played to date, where the middle order had their chance to shine and they failed."
This time, Pandey didn't fail.
He batted almost as an opening batsman, coming in at 5 for 1 in the second over. He got off the mark first ball with a lofted shot over bowler Harbhajan Singh's head for four. By the end of the Powerplay, he was on 27 off 12 balls, having gone past Warner, who wasn't slow by any yardstick. Warner sped up after that, but Pandey beat him to the half-century, getting there in just 25 balls.
It was quite a different Pandey, not just to the Pandey of IPL 2019, but the Pandey in general. He is an extremely slow starter (look at the graphic above, which compares his strike rate in the first ten balls of an IPL innings from 2015 to before this game), a shortcoming that makes it worse for his team when he walks in late in the innings.
Pandey last batted at No. 3 in an IPL game back on April 22, 2018, against Super Kings, like on Tuesday, but at home in Hyderabad. On that occasion, he was dismissed for a two-ball duck by Deepak Chahar. After this innings, he might just be the man at No. 3 going forward for Sunrisers, especially with Bairstow leaving after this game and Warner leaving at some stage too, for their teams' World Cup preparations,
Did David Warner really fall to a spinner?
After 40 games of IPL 2019, of the 32 batsmen to have faced 60-plus balls of spin this season, only one hadn't been dismissed by a spinner at all: David Warner.
Harbhajan Singh came back into the XI for Super Kings on Tuesday, and talk on social media and the commentary box was that he had been brought in to take on Warner. Warner's record against Harbhajan before this game in all T20s read: 118 runs from 98 balls, scored at a strike rate of 120, with three dismissals. Fair to say that Harbhajan had kept him in check more often than not.
Warner, though, has been in beast-mode against spin - any kind of spin - this season. And, true to form, he dictated terms right away, launching Harbhajan for six off the second ball he faced, and looked comfortable against him throughout the Powerplay.
With the primary match-up not reaping dividends, Dhoni rung in the changes: Ravindra Jadeja came on, followed by Imran Tahir, but all to no avail. In the end, it was Harbhajan who got the better of Warner for the fourth time in their T20 exchanges. A tired swipe that connected with air in the 14th over led to a stumping. It was a selection ploy that worked well, even if it came somewhat later than planned.
With inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman and Shamya Dasgupta