CHENNAI // The more things change, and they certainly have in the Indian Premier League (IPL) over the past 12 months, the more they stay the same. Whatever the format, MS Dhoni just cannot stop winning.
Six days after scaling the one-day pinnacle with India, he led Chennai Super Kings to a tense two-run victory over the new-look Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL season opener last night.
Last year, Dhoni won the IPL-and-Champions League double with the Super Kings and having been retained at a cost of US$1.8 million (Dh6,611m) prior to the player auction in January, he shrugged off fatigue and the emotion of the past week to play a full part in Chennai's success.
It was n0t quite a full house at Chepauk, and the 30,000-odd that did come in were treated to a match of patchy quality.
Kolkata had the game in their grasp midway through their innings, with 66 needed from 54 balls and Jacques Kallis and Yusuf Pathan at the crease.
Chennai needed a big lift, and the adoring crowd that now treats the son of Ranchi as one of them were not especially surprised when their captain summoned up the moment of inspiration.
Kallis tapped the ball into the leg side and set off for the single that would have taken him to 50. Dhoni chased, picked up and threw down the stumps with only one to aim at. Pathan was gone for 11, and Chennai's phalanx of spinners could rush through some overs relatively untroubled.
With 43 needed from the last five overs, it was still Kolkata's game though. Kallis had batted with assurance and poise for his 54, but a moment of silliness transformed the game.
An attempted carrom ball from Ashwin came to him on the full, but his lap-sweep went only as far as short fine leg.
By then, the ball was turning a fair bit, and Eoin Morgan's poor day - he had dropped S Anirudha earlier when he was on 39 - got worse as Suresh Raina, something of a golden arm in the IPL, had him stumped.
For whatever reason, Gautam Gambhir, the league's most expensive player (US$2.4 million), had held himself back as a finisher but the poor running that has plagued him in the international arena cost him here as well. Chancing a second after Dhoni had failed to gather a throw, Scott Styris ran him out with a direct hit.
Chennai were in charge, with 26 needed from 12 balls. But Manoj Tiwary struck two consecutive sixes off Suraj Randiv before being stumped, leaving nine to get from the final over.
Tim Southee, a late replacement for Ben Hilfenhaus, gave away just six, finishing with a precise yorker.
The Super Kings' innings was built around 64 from Anirudha, the son of Kris Srikkanth, opener in the World Cup-winning team of 1983.
Raina, the IPL's highest run-getter, contributed 33, while Dhoni slugged one huge six in a 21-ball 29.
Unlike the World Cup final though, it was his presence of mind in the field and not the mighty bat that won this game.