This was supposed to be a piece about Sunrisers Hyderabad and their terrific defense of 118 against Mumbai Indians on Tuesday. It was meant to celebrate Kane Williamson’s inspired captaincy, Siddarth Kaul’s incisive spell, Rashid Khan’s spirited comeback after the shellacking he received in the two previous games and Shikhar Dhawan’s expert slip-catching. There was something refreshing about seeing fielders prowl around the bat and watching batsmen caught in two minds, unsure whether to attack or push a single, poking their bats outside off stump.
Even as the rest of the teams look to their batsmen to set up games, Sunrisers are placing bets on bowlers. This ability to defend low scores – especially with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan turning in miserly spells – offers them a winning chance to compete in most conditions. Add Williamson’s captaincy and you have a team with most bases covered.
We will get to them in due course. For now, as I review the highlights from that Sunrisers game, Chennai Super Kings need 99 off 42 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, in Bangalore. In front of a sea of red flecked with yellow blotches (including a sizable contingent from Chennai). On a pitch where the slower, flighty ball has gripped and swerved… and – as in the case of Sam Billings and Ravindra Jadeja – landed a lethal snakebite.
MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu have just played out Yuzvendra Chahal’s final over, happy to pick off just six runs from it. The required rate is hovering around 14 an over but neither batsman betrays urgency or panic, neither charges Chahal.
Now even in this day of big bats and mad six-hitting, 99 off 42 is some ask. But consider the context. RCB’s best bowlers have exhausted their quota of overs. This is a smallish ground. CSK have wickets in hand. CSK have historically dominated RCB. Dhoni, a run-chasing machine that has perhaps plotted its way out of this jam to the last ball, is still not out. RCB might be favorites at this point, but it won’t take them long to unravel.
The players, the commentators, the fans, the neutrals – they all know this. Here’s the other thing they know: that CSK will try and take this to the final over and back themselves to get 20-plus at the crunch.
Everyone knows that as long as Dhoni is in the middle, he will slam a six here, a four there, pick off a single here, a two there… target the weakest bowlers in the RCB line-up… pick out the shortest boundaries… unfurl his helicopter swings … try and hit as straight as possible to minimize the risk of being caught… make the most of wides and no balls… run like his life was at stake… and invariably hit the winning runs.
Now imagine you are a CSK fan, decked in yellow, watching the final seven overs. Maybe you have followed every CSK game since 2008. Maybe you have travelled to Pune to watch your team beat Rajasthan Royals in a thriller. Maybe you have stayed away from the IPL for the last two years, having no interest in the tournament with your team not involved. Maybe, to take a break from your humdrum life, you transform into a 'whistle-pottufying, drum-adichchufying, koothu-dancing' die-hard fan in the two months of the IPL. Maybe you struggle to sleep after CSK games, the flow of adrenaline overwhelming your sanity.
Now imagine yourself watching Dhoni thulp Pawan Negi for two consecutive sixes at the start of the 14th over. Clean, juddering strikes, whistled towards the sight-screen, as emphatic a call to arms as any. Is there any doubt in your head that CSK are going to pull this off? That too after Rayudu sizzles a six?
Mohammad Siraj concedes nine off the next over. But that doesn’t worry you in the least. Because deep inside you know that RCB can crumble at any point.
Sure enough, Umesh Yadav drops a Rayudu skier. And sure enough, Rayudu makes the most of the reprieve with two successive sixes. 16 off the over. The drumbeat is strong. The game is on. You pull out the chants with your buddies at the ground: “CSK CSK CSK CSK”.
Siraj bowls a steady 17th over. No worries. You know Corey Anderson is likely to offer the lollypops at the other end. A six from Dhoni. A four from Rayudu. A run-out! Damn. But no need for tension. Bravo in and 30 off 12. Surely the match is still within reach.
Siraj seems to agree with you. He concedes a massive six and then lets slip three wides in the 19th over, wides that in effect cost just three but announce that he has succumbed to pressure. Each wide brings a groan from the RCB fans. Each wide brings a knowing smile to your face. Dhoni lets each go with care, as if trying to tell you that he was always expecting this at this stage.
16 needed off the 20th. Anderson to bowl it. A four, a six, a single and a six. You are unsure exactly what you are screaming. You don’t know the person you are hugging. You have no idea if the CSK flag you are waving belongs to your or your neighbour.
But you are certain of one thing: there is no other team you would rather support, no other team you would travel miles and miles to watch, no other team you would lose your voice for. Each game, each close finish, your fandom has been rewarded. At the end of each game this season, you have felt that much closer to the team.
Maybe they will run out of steam in the second half. Maybe they will go cold in the Playoffs. But who cares. For now, just give me that flag, watch me dance, listen to my thunderous chants. And here comes my whistle.