Champion Super Kings - A fitting end to IPL 2018
Chennai Super Kings aced a run-chase in a manner so clinical that one was left a bit puzzled by the end of it all.
There were no injury scares, no middle-over slowdowns, no mini-collapses, and no soaring asking-rates. MS Dhoni didn’t have to extricate his team from quick-sand. Dwayne Bravo didn’t have to lash six after six in the end overs. The tail didn’t even need to pad up. It was all so dominant, so anti-climactic that one briefly wished for a stutter – just to see the match go to the final over, just to watch them sneak another nail-biting win.
This game was all set-up for a classic finish, what with Sunrisers Hyderabad going into the break as slight favorites. SRH’s bowling attack had defended 118, 132, 146 and 151 at various stages over the last two months, and they had in their ranks the best opening bowler and best spinner of the tournament. Now they had racked up 178. In a high-pressure final. Two days after defending 174 in the qualifier against Kolkata Knight Riders.
CSK would need a fiery start in the Powerplay – or so the thinking went in the mid-innings chat shows. They would need to watch out for Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and figure out a way to tackle Rashid Khan in the middle overs. If the pitch became progressively better to bat on, if they kept wickets, if they reined in the asking rate at around twelve an over, they could give themselves a chance to explode in the final five.
Shane Watson would have none of it. He bided his time against the swinging ball and played out a maiden off Bhuvaneshwar. Let’s have a sedate Powerplay, he seemed to be saying, let’s give the first six overs to the bowlers. His first ten balls were dots. Then came a four but that was followed by 0, 1, 1, 1 and 1. At one stage Watson was 7 off 17 and CSK were 23 for 1 in 5.3.
This has been an extraordinary season for CSK precisely because they have repeatedly achieved the unexpected. Hardly anyone gave them a chance after the auction. They were supposedly too old and too injury prone, too out-of-sync with the hectic rhythms of the IPL. Kedar Jadhav pulled a hamstring on opening night… then went on to win them the cliffhanger. Dhoni injured his back against Kings XI Punjab… then nearly conjured a mini-miracle. Suresh Raina hurt his calf in their second game and endured a rather quiet season… only to find his touch as the playoffs neared.
Faf du Plessis began the tournament with a side strain and missed a bulk of the games… before playing a stunning hand in the first qualifier. Sam Billings – who wasn’t even expected to be in the playing XI – came into the side and carried them to a big win. Deepak Chahar raised his game, first with the ball, then with the bat. So did Shardul Thakur. And Imran Tahir and Karn Sharma made the most of their chances. Dhoni was supposedly finished as a T20 player. Well of course, the key word there is “supposedly”.
Watson was also supposedly finished. He had made 71 runs in seven innings for Royal Challengers Bangalore last year and no one expected him to reel off 555 runs – with two hundreds and two fifties – at a strike rate of close to 155. The best, he reserved for the last. He saw out Sandeep Sharma’s first two overs, not trying anything fancy against the moving ball. Even when du Plessis got out, Watson didn’t change his plan. He would take a single here, a single there and wait for the right time to lift-off.
Then came over No. 6, where Watson and Raina picked off 15 runs. The Powerplay was done but CSK had just warmed up. Siddarth Kaul’s first two overs were blistered for 32. Rashid was offered the utmost respect but whoever ran in at the other end was ravaged. Shakib’s was torched for 15 in his only over. Brathwaite was scattered for 23 in two overs. And Sandeep Sharma was torn apart in his final over, which went for a mighty 27. CSK blasted 60 between overs five and ten. Just when you thought they would ease off, they lashed 66 in the next five.
By then no force on earth could stop Watson’s rush to the finish line. He could swing however he pleased, wherever he wished – and the ball was going to fly towards the boundary. By the end he even picked a Rashid’s googly – a ball that had felled so many quality batsmen this tournament – and swatted it to the fine-leg fence for yet another four. There have been many fine innings in IPL finals but it is hard to think of anything as substantial as 117 off 57 balls with eleven fours and eight sixes.
Here was one of the finest innings this season. By one of the finest batsmen in IPL history. For one of the best teams in franchise cricket. Backed by the most adoring fan-base in the country. Now find a more fitting way to end the IPL than that.