Abu Dhabi: Mahendra Singh Dhoni hasn't lost an ounce of his leadership acumen even after a 437-day hiatus as his battle-hardened Chennai Super Kings (CSK), in the manner so typical of them, trumped Mumbai Indians in the IPL opener on Saturday.
Ambati Rayudu (71 off 48 balls) blazed his way and Faf du Plessis (55 not out off 44 balls) more than made up for Suresh Raina's absence at No. 3, helping CSK chase down a tricky 163-run target in 19.2 overs overs and with five wickets to spare.
It wasn't a jam-packed Wankhede rooting for the Mumbai Indians nor was it the passionate Chepauk stands with its Yellow Army in full fervour. It was a near empty Sheikh Zayed Stadium in the Arabian desert where Bryan Adams' Summer of 69 or Rocky's theme music Eye of a Tiger blared from the sound systems along with artificial crowd cheers.
In this eerie set-up, Captain Cool's brain kept ticking as his new recruits -- leg-spinner Piyush Chawla (1/21 in 4 overs) and left-arm seamer Sam Curran (1/28 in 4 overs) -- made fantastic first impressions while the new ball pair of Lungi Ngidi (3/38 in 4 overs) and Deepak Chahar (2/32 in 4 overs) came back brilliantly at the death overs.
The skipper also sent match-fit Sam Curran at No. 6 and his 18 off 6 balls ended any anti-climax that Rohit Sharma's men would have anticipated.
Giving less than 80 runs in the back-10 was the turning point and then the manner in which Rayudu and du Plessis chased it after a scratchy start as MI maintained their record of not winning an IPL opening game since 2013.
Trent Boult, with an in-dipper and James Pattinson, with a slightly dodgy decision going his way, removed Shane Watson and Murali Vijay respectively, making it 6/2 before Rayudu, in the company of du Plessis, launched a furious counter attack.
One of the major aspects was how clueless Jasprit Bumrah (1/43 in 4 overs) looked during the day and it cost his team dearly.
MI's sloppy ground fielding only helped their opponents, but Rayudu was in a murderous mood as he punished Rahul Chahar and Bumrah alike, with shots all around the wicket.
The MI bowlers, suddenly after the powerplay overs, lost their length and either bowled too short or too full during the duo's 115-run stand, which clinched the deal.
When Mumbai Indians started, Quinton de Kock (33 off 20 balls, 5x4) and Saurabh Tiwary (42 off 31 balls, 3x4, 1x6) played well but couldn't convert their starts as the defending champions got only 76 runs in their back-10.
De Kock started in a blazing fashion and launched straight into Chahar and Ngidi as 45 came off the first four overs.
The shrewd Dhoni then introduced Chawla into the attack and he right away dismissed Rohit Sharma (12) who always have had a problem with wrist spinners. It was a straight delivery that Rohit tried to hit inside out but couldn't get past Curran at the mid-off circle.
The seamer was back in action as he got rid of de Kock with a well disguised off-cutter, which he hit straight to Shane Watson at mid-wicket.
Suryakumar Yadav (17) and Tiwary added 44 runs to steady the ship but some good outfielding in the back-10 by the likes of Curran and du Plessis had MI struggling at 124/5 from 92 for two.
Ngidi and Chahar then came back for their final spells to make matters worse by not only taking wickets but also putting a check on the scoreboard.