Faf du Plessis chose the right areas to play the lofted shots BCCI

After the second ball of the ninth over of the chase, Faf du Plessis, fielding at long-off, turned towards the crowd, took a batting stance, crouched low and played the perfect dab past short third. The ball would have beaten the fielder on his left. Du Plessis wasn't just trying out a random shot; he was mirroring one. He had seen Sarfaraz Khan play the same shot with perfection against a fast off-break from Ravindra Jadeja. Du Plessis shook his head in disappointment but was quick enough to acknowledge the quality of the shot. A thumbs up followed as he took his position again.

It was a quality shot, on a sluggish surface against a quality spinner and du Plessis understood that. Earlier in the day, he had to face off against R Ashwin and M Ashwin to try and resurrect the innings. In CSK's win, and in KXIP's choke, the spotlight continued to stay on the spinners. Harbhajan Singh's three wickets, Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja's economical spells and the performance of the two Ashwins headlined the contest along with MS Dhoni's late finish. On a track made for the spinners, du Plessis's performance flew under the radar. It was his 38-ball 54 that gave Dhoni the platform to finish big and the spinners the additional cushion in their defence of 160.

CSK, for the first time in IPL 2019, had issues to rectify and entered a contest with some certain uncertainties; trying to identify players for two slots. And while Stephen Fleming stressed du Plessis was the obvious choice once Dwayne Bravo was ruled out, several other stars had to align for the South African to make an entry into the playing XI. Shane Watson, apart from his 44 in Delhi, hasn't been able to contribute much while Ambati Rayudu's dismal run forced the side to change things a bit. If the opening combination had fired, CSK would have turned to either Mitchell Santner or Sam Billings. And even though the latter can open, and has opened, he's looked more as a finisher in the CSK ranks.

So there was du Plessis, right at the top, with the brief to fix CSK's opening woes. Despite being at the top of the table, CSK had been the worst performing side in the powerplay before the game against KXIP. They had scored at 6.4 runs per over - a stark contrast from their usual approach. CSK follow a set template with the openers expected to take advantage of the first six overs, then build from overs 7-15 and then finish big. Coming into the contest, CSK's openers had scored 8, 21, 1 and 1 in the last four innings. Against KXIP, they scored 54 for no loss in the first six. While Watson had trudged to 26 off 22, it was du Plessis who had given the innings the much-needed early impetus with his 14-ball 27 early on.

What stood out in his innings was how brilliantly du Plessis tackled the spinners. He made steady progress against them - scoring 27 off 24 against spin - and often throwing R Ashwin's plans off. And while there were seven dot balls against the spinners, the two timely hit sixes - in the 12th and 13th over - ensured the runs kept coming. From the seventh over till the 14th over, only one over was bowled by a pacer while R Ashwin and M Ashwin bowled in tandem. The awareness shown by du Plessis was the key to the knock. To put things in perspective, against the spinners, instead of going square of the wicket for the big hits, he targetted the straight boundaries. He lofted R Ashwin over his head and went towards wide long-on against M Ashwin instead of playing cross-batted shots. The only risk he took was when he slog-swept M Ashwin in the 13th over to reach his half-century off 34 deliveries.

The assault on the pacers had started as early as the third over. Mohammed Shami was lofted over mid-off and then crunched past cover-point for two consecutive boundaries by the right-hander. He then scooped the pacer over short fine for a six to propel the side to a brisk start and that proved to be a crucial point in the innings. In CSK's innings, the spinners bowled eight overs and gave away just 46 runs with three wickets going to R Ashwin. The pacers went for over nine runs per over in the 12 they bowled and leaked 114 runs without bagging a wicket. When the going got tough, du Plessis scored at 12.27 runs per over against the pacers to ease the pressure. His overall strike-rate of 142.11 was only second best in the game just behind Dhoni's 160.87. By the time he was dismissed, CSK had the perfect platform to launch their late assault. He had given them 100 on the board in 13 and a half overs with the fire-power of Dhoni and Jadhav to come in.

"We've been conscious of the fact that he is in very good form and hasn't been playing," Fleming said after the game. "He can manipulate the bowling really well and he's got some good power. He doesn't hit it 15 rows back but just over the rope is also fine. He was able to manipulate (the fields and plans) and keep the momentum going. It wasn't an easy track to bat but we knew the longer he batted, there were more chances of getting an innings of substance."

With Bravo ruled out, du Plessis is set to have a longer run. Fleming admitted they aren't too sure that the all-rounder will be able to play after the two-week rehab period. Du Plessis, for now, has eased CSK's worry lines at the top. And with Scott Kuggeleijn impressing on his IPL debut, they seem on track to sort their death bowling woes as well.