Much-maligned for their scoring patterns through IPL 2020, Chennai Super Kings began their 2021 journey by posting a total that they had bettered only once last season " only to see it chased down with more than an over to spare.
After a last-ball finish on a sluggish Chepauk surface to get IPL 2021 up and running, it was one-way traffic on the Wankhede road on day two, as Delhi Capitals kickstarted their campaign with a thumping seven-wicket win in Rishabh Pant's first IPL game as captain.
In the absence of three bowling mainstays " Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Axar Patel " aside from the loss of regular captain Shreyas Iyer to injury, it provided an ideal start to Delhi's bid to go one better on their runner-up finish in the UAE.
A look at the major talking points from CSK-DC clash in Mumbai.
Intent at last, but CSK pay for Powerplay crawl
CSK's lack of batting levers throughout IPL 2020 was rather well documented; they were, to cut a long story short, the second-slowest scorers in the Powerplay as well as through the middle overs, and were also found tellingly short against spin.
Their addressing of the issue was amply clear in the line-up, which had Shardul Thakur slated to enter at number 10, and Deepak Chahar at 11, with a lot of left-handed batting strewn across the order, in Moeen Ali, Ravindra Jadeja and Sam Curran " the trio most crucial to the upping of CSK's gears in IPL 2021.
Before picking the bones, let's address the positives: CSK scored 155 runs in the last 14 overs of their innings, including 117 in the last 10. Moeen's promotion to number three injected that much-needed fillip, the 'spark' that they were crying out loud for in the UAE, and indeed, most of the CSK batters sparked into life in their opener. All of their middle-order run-getters scored their runs at a strike rate of at least 143.75; only one CSK batter bettered that scoring rate throughout last season.
Already, this marks a quantum leap on the depth of IPL 2020 " and that's something to be chuffed about for the Super Kings.
In the final tally, though, their humbling Powerplay returns proved costly. CSK limped to 33/2, in the period generally expected to be the best for batting, while facing five of the first six overs from Chris Woakes, Avesh Khan, Tom Curran " all three of whom had Powerplay economy rates above 10 in the IPL before this game.
In direct contrast, Delhi powered through to 65/0 in their first six overs " hitting 40 runs in fours alone.
Knowing the dew factor that will always come in at the Wankhede (and across most venues where they will be playing), and given the length of their batting resources, CSK ought to get going a lot quicker from the next game onwards.
Avesh promising, but Rabada-Nortje pivotal to DC hopes
You can't expect the world from any attack missing a pair of bowlers who shared 52 wickets in the previous season " and it was obvious that the Capitals will dearly miss Proteas pace enforcers, Rabada and Nortje in their 2021 opener.
With Ishant Sharma, too, missing out with a niggle, DC were forced to field a pace attack with minimal historical evidence in their favour. Avesh Khan had five wickets from nine IPL outings, at an economy touching 10; Tom Curran, in 10 IPL appearances, had conceded 11.50 per over; Chris Woakes hadn't played a T20 in nearly 1000 days.
If you discount the 19th over of the innings, where Tom was taken apart by brother Sam, the trio actually had a quite solid " possibly superb " combined outing: 5/58 in 10 overs. But there's the trouble: you, me, CSK, even DC " everyone knew what was coming at the death.
Curran had a death overs (17-20) economy of 13.16 per over in the IPL, and 9.98 over his T20 career; Woakes had bled 10.78 per over bowling at the death in the IPL, and 10.09 over his career; Avesh had only bowled four death overs in the IPL.
The two English seamers were anyway going to find it difficult to be part of the plans once Rabada and Nortje were available; but Avesh was remarkably on the money in a display that would provide a happy headache in terms of the domestic pace options.
The 24-year-old was entering the IPL on the back of a brilliant Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy campaign for Madhya Pradesh " 14 wickets from five games, economy 7.45, average 10.64 " and he looked a different bowler from the one who we'd seen in little glimpses at the IPL in recent years. Less bullish about his pace, and more particular about his channels, Avesh conceded only 11 from his two Powerplay overs " while becoming the first bowler to trap Faf du Plessis lbw in the IPL " and followed it up by giving away only 12 runs in his second spell, bowling the 16th and 18th overs of the innings " while becoming the first bowler to dismiss MS Dhoni for a duck in T20s since IPL 2015.
Shaw-Dhawan: We could be on to something special
Prithvi Shaw's last nine IPL innings had yielded 49 runs, with three single-digit outings and three ducks. That was the form he carried from the UAE to Australia, where his IPL coach famously pre-empted his dismissal of the second ball of the tour; 0 and 4 is what Shaw returned at Adelaide, before being consigned to the bench.
Shikhar Dhawan may have ODI runs, and backing, behind him, but in a year where the T20 World Cup is the prime focus, he knows he is not among the front-runners to be one of India's openers come October.
Both, however, have bucked trends in their own ways, in the recent past.
Shaw produced the most resounding of redemptions in the domestic 50 overs competition, smashing a barely-believable 827 runs in eight games in the Vijay Hazare Trophy " average 165.40, strike rate 138.29.
Dhawan, whose loss of rank in the Indian pecking order has been largely down to his scoring rate and not his runs, has been course-correcting " at least in the IPL " for a couple of seasons now. Since returning to the Delhi franchise in 2019 (and hearing some stern words from Ricky Ponting right at the start), he's found gears that hadn't been visible in his T20 game earlier; Dhawan's strike rate over the course of IPL 2019 and 2020 was 140.44, compared to 123.53 in the years before that. The run-scoring, too, has only picked up.
Given that context, given their respective changes in form or fortune, you sensed this could be a contender for a supreme combination at the top of the order " and they've taken no time to go about doing just that.
Shaw and Dhawan's association " 138 runs in 13.3 overs " ended a run of 69 innings for Delhi without a century partnership for the opening wicket. The manner in which they pulverised the bowling " 65 runs in the Powerplay, 99 by the halfway stage " also ended CSK's hopes even before their bowlers could set into any real rhythm.
It's early doors, but they've laid down a marker.
For the historically inclined, only thrice before Saturday had Delhi registered century partnerships for the first wicket at a run rate in excess of 10 per over. The last of those three came in 2012, each featuring one Virender Sehwag.
CSK's bowling: Quantity plenty, but what about quality?
Again, any conclusions drawn one game into the season are likely to be premature " so let's warrant enough credit to this being the opening game for this CSK bowling combination, while having to deal with a wet ball, at the batting paradise of Wankhede, against a partnership on the rampage.
Odds are that CSK won't have to face this extent of bullishness from the word go too often, but will they have to contend with dew again? Almost certainly. Will they have to bowl on batting paradises again? Most definitely.
10 of CSK's 14 games are at Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata " and Mumbai, based on numbers since the start of IPL 2018, is actually the most favourable for the bowlers (8.61 per over, compared to 9.02 at Kolkata and 9.26 at Bengaluru).
So just plonking six/seven bowling options together, confident as that may make one feel going into a game, is not going to be a solution; there's going to be a need for quality, and a need for variety not just in terms of number of options, but also in terms of their nature.
Not one of the four seam bowlers they fielded " Deepak Chahar, Sam Curran, Shardul Thakur, Dwayne Bravo " came close to touching the 140 kmph mark. Of those four, the only one who can realistically be expected to find that reading is Thakur, and he too isn't likely to do that more than a handful of times in one game.
That absence of high-pace in the setup makes Lungi Ngidi a must-have, almost, going forward. Jason Behrendorff is another candidate, although his lack of death bowling experience is a drawback.
The spin selection, too, couldn't have inspired any great confidence. In 2020, Ravindra Jadeja picked up 10 wickets from 46.2 overs of T20 bowling, and Moeen Ali picked eight from 29. Given that they've also conceded 8.14 and 9.07 per over, respectively, you're not realistically counting on either to stem the run-flow as well.
It's early, yes. But one way or the other " be it by change in selection, or change in the stock of those selected " CSK will need a major improvement, if they seek a major improvement on their seventh-place finish from IPL 2020.