Much was said about Kings XI Punjab's brilliant buys in the IPL 7 auction, with several star names, both Indian and international, coming in to make this side a formidable outfit on paper. One of those buys, in particular, could prove to be the difference between the elusive title and another flattered-to-deceive-yet-again campaign.
Glenn Maxwell, staring at a target well above 200, produced a quite outstanding innings, to reverse-sweep, drive, flick, tonk, and slog the Chennai Super Kings to death in a blink-and-you-miss-a-boundary IPL 7 game in Abu Dhabi.
Choosing to bat first, CSK, courtesy belligerent half-centuries from their openers Brendon McCullum (67) and Dwayne Smith (66), put on a formidable 205 for four, which Kings XI, thanks to an unbelievable 95 from Maxwell, made look easier than a Sunday morning, finishing on a stunning 206 for four in just 18.5 overs for a comprehensive six-wicket victory.
Needing a big start to get Kings XI going, the first question was "So, are we going to see some vintage Virender Sehwag at the top of the innings?" Well, for 17 balls Sehwag looked like the Sehwag of old, crashing boundaries through the offside with great disdain. However, right after smashing a couple of boundaries off Ashish Nehra, Sehwag (19, 10b, 4x4) got a little carried away, going for a slog through the leg side only to see his stumps disturbed.
Cheteshwar Pujara (13, 10b, 2x4) followed suit soon after, sent packing via a 50-50 lbw decision off R Ashwin (two for 42), with the CSK off-spinner then trapping Akshar Patel in front of the stumps to put Kings XI, and particularly, Maxwell, who began his innings with a ridiculous reverse sweep through the covers for four, under pressure.
But, the Aussie batsman, like he showed for Australia in the World T20, doesn't know the meaning of pressure, and despite wickets falling at the other end, the free spirit continued his boundary glut, picking up one every few balls to keep Kings XI on course, in terms of run rate.
There really was no stopping Maxwell, as CSK, like Kings XI did, only added fuel to the Aussie batsman's fire by dropping the right-handed tyro when he was on 37. Ashish Nehra was the culprit, looking as awkward as a kid on his first day in school, making a complete hash of an utterly easy catch, leaving Ravindra Jadeja giving the death look.
David Miller gave Maxwell good company, and the left-hander was also given a life, dropped in the same over by Faf Du Plessis, albeit a more difficult one, as the Kings XI duo put on 123 runs in a mere 12.4 overs to take the target well within the realms of possibility - 68 from the final seven overs.
Maxwell was dropped once more, with the Australian on 77 from 34 balls, as Samuel Badree, in as a substitute for Dwayne Bravo, who had to be taken to the hospital after injuring his shoulder while attempting a spectacular catch, grassed a difficult catch in the deep, with Dhoni's decision to give Dwayne Smith the ball almost working wonders.
A couple more boundaries off Maxwell's blade brought the target down to 50 from the final five overs, with Kings XI, with seven wickets in hand, very much the favourites heading into the business end.
Chennai sensed a way back into the game in the 16th over, as Smith, reeling from a six and four from the Aussie, found the base of the stumps to send Maxwell (95, 43b, 15x4, 2x6) packing, five runs short of what would have been one of the best hundreds in IPL history.
Despite the wicket, though, Kings XI still managed 16 runs from the over, meaning they only needed 34 from the final 24 deliveries, with Miller (54 n.o., 37b, 3x4, 3x6) one of the best finishers in T20 cricket, and skipper George Bailey (17, 10b, 2x4) at the crease.
Miller struck a couple of huge sixes off Jadeja to take Kings XI to the brink of victory, with the final few runs needed proving to be simple enough as Punjab, roared on by owner Preity Zinta, coasted home.
The first innings saw two new buys for the CSK -- McCullum and Smith - run riot, putting a decent looking Kings XI Punjab bowling lineup to the sword.
With Michael Hussey and Murali Vijay - CSK's regular openers over the past seasons - gone, it was always going to be interesting to see how Smith and McCullum would perform, and going by the first game, Dhoni and Stephen Fleming have little to worry about.
McCullum, who has been a little more circumspect of late in New Zealand colours, was his destructive best, smashing the leather off the ball time and again while Smith just carried on his form from the Mumbai Indians, where he was pivotal in winning the IPL title last year.
The Kiwi captain was the aggressor in the first half of the innings, tonking the Kings XI bowlers, including the much-vaunted Mitchell Johnson, all around the park, with that heavy blade of his acting like an as effective-as-they-come bludgeon.
McCullum (67, 45b, 4x4, 5x6) was also lucky to survive past the fifth over, with Bailey dropping the opener off Awana when he was on just 24. The life given was taken with open arms as McCullum continued his assault till the 13th over, when he finally fell, caught wonderfully in the deep by Glenn Maxwell, with Smith (66, 43b, 6x4, 3x6) carrying on from there and reaching his own half-century.
Suresh Raina chipped in with a decent 19-ball 24 as, while Dhoni (26, 11b, 3x4, 1x6) did what he does best, finish the innings, courtesy a couple of astute edges and one trademark maximum over long-on.
The final over, which also included a carved six from Bravo, yielded 18 runs, pushing the total well beyond 200, which, Kings XI hauled down scarily comfortably.