Twenty20 is a young game, a game for young people, they say. On Sunday 15 April, two men with over 75 years between them scored 142 runs off just 77 balls, shaping the way the game between Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings went in the Indian Premier League.
Chris Gayle first came out and smashed 63 in 33 balls with seven fours and four sixes, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni responded with an unbeaten 79 in 44 balls with six fours and five sixes. Which was the better innings? Difficult to call, but Gayle ended up on the winning side and was named the Player of the Match, so he certainly beat Dhoni on the day.
“It’s amazing news for our team and bad news for other teams that Chris Gayle’s hitting the ball well,” said KL Rahul, who opened the batting for Punjab with Gayle, scoring 37 in 22 balls and sharing in a 96-run stand in just eight overs.
Gayle hasn’t been at his best in recent times, and when the franchises went out to bid for players earlier this year, it looked like Gayle – the highest run-scorer in T20 cricket – wouldn’t find a team. He finally did, and how!
“We all know he is player who can win games single-handedly and demolish attacks on his day. That’s what he did today and we want him and we expect him to continue this form forward and get a lot of runs for us, because if he gets going then there’s no stopping him,” said Rahul.
Gayle led Punjab to 197/7, and then came Chennai’s turn. Dhoni walked in at 56/3 in the seventh over and turned the game around with exactly the sort of batting that has made him such a star in the format over the years: big hitting and a lot of running.
He almost pulled off a heist, but three dot balls in the final over by Mohit Sharma, who played 26 one-day internationals and eight T20 Internationals for India between 2013 and 2015, stymied Dhoni. Two of the dot balls were wide yorkers.
“The plan was to bowl wide yorkers to MS, because he’s struggling with his back and we felt he couldn’t reach,” explained Rahul. “Good back, bad back, you pitch it in his arc, he’s still going to hit it miles. So it’s good learning for our bowling attack.”
Dhoni, back leading the team that he took to two IPL titles, accepted that the back wasn’t in good shape, but he wasn’t going to let it bother him.
“The back is pretty bad, but God has given me lot of power and I don't need to use my back a lot,” he said after the game. “My arms can do the job. It shouldn't be too bad because I know what happened, and when you know the extent of injury, you know how bad it really is.”
The arms almost did the job, with Chennai stopping just four runs short.
“When you’re chasing, you get certainty in an uncertain game. You can manage risk, and you saw MS managing his risk almost to perfection,” said Stephen Fleming, the Chennai coach. “Today was a couple of good yorkers from Mohit Sharma that denied the win.
“So the way the game is going, that certainty around managing risks and the ability of players to hit and chase down 15, 16, 18 runs an over is one of the key factors now.”
With Gayle clearly intent on living up to his hard-earned reputation and Dhoni far from finished as a finisher, fans of the two stalwarts should have plenty of moments to cherish over the next few days.
And as for Gayle and the subject of age, here’s the big Jamaican on the subject: "It's good to be back. Once you've got momentum, you can keep the bowler under pressure. It was a close game, but we ended up winning, which feels pretty good. I feel 25.” More bad news for oppositions.