IPL 2017: The final saga that kept you on tenterhooks
There is a careless insignificance attached to the Premier League-like event, more of a two-month box-office carnival than a cricket tournament. All of a sudden, on its final day, it transforms itself into the ultimate showdown of glitz, glamour and whatever cricket that remains thereafter.
For the sport to remain sacrosanct amongst the boundary-side pollution of electronic hoardings, semi-naked entertainment professionals and air-conditioned lounges far distanced from the common fan, the sport needs to step up.
And to make that happen, the walking and breathing ambassadors of a certain telephone giant, another wannabe giant and a condom manufacturer, need to make sure that the sound off the willow makes more noise than what’s printed on it.
On Sunday, saving lives and reputations alike, if you like to call them so, two teams made a routine out of a showdown first and then flipped sides to make sure that the mundane routine that had taken over the stage found a fitting end.
Mumbai had lost three out of three against Rising Pune this season and the magnanimous f***tardery committed in the first five overs sent them on their way to the fourth, and perhaps, the most significant one. It doesn't matter how strong the dictator reigns; once there's a Robin Hood around, the fear of failure takes over the mightiest of them.
Mumbai, the absolute bullies of the season – won 10 and lost 4 – as well as that of Indian cricket, had found a nemesis in Pune. It was only fitting that Steve Smith led the Supergiant, a man whose equations with India best resemble the one that a cannibal would have with a corpse.
Lendl Simmons and Parthiv Patel looked every bit the nervous starters that they were not. Jaydev Unadkat looked every bit of the Zaheer Khan that he could never be. Add to that the Jonty Rhodes-like low blow – Unadkat really bent that low to take the return catch – and you would realize that had the catch been any more perfect, Rhodes would have jumped and switched dugouts.
Ambati Rayudu was playing a final. Take that for a change. He wasn’t playing a practice game or an inconsequential match on a ground that has the record for hosting the fourth-most number of ODIs, but that record now is as inconsequential as the matches played on it.
Perhaps it was the nervousness of the final or the realization that he won’t play many of these that led him to invent a run and be a victim of a man who could do nothing wrong on Indian soil. Well, not nothing, but almost.
At 41/3 in the 8th over, Mumbai had submitted to the might of their Achilles heel, and their dreams of being the first to lift three IPL titles seemed nothing more than a potpourri. Life brings you to a crossroads where you need to make a choice between holding on and giving up as if it is a matter of life and death.
You want to hold on to the sight of a mannequin that you know displays stuff you can’t afford, but the rich don’t want a child to have big eyes. But you don’t give up, just yet.
It was almost an act of rebellion that Krunal Pandya was sent in ahead of Kieron Pollard – the Tesseract to Mumbai’s dominance – in a final. The man who had, rather famously, refused Ambati Rayudu the strike during a similar tense run-chase, and had Harsha Bhogle speak, "You might also have a bat (Rayudu), but I'm the beast," was leapfrogged by a man yet to make his international debut.
But Pollard didn’t have to wait for long. Rohit Sharma had played only a few innings of substance this season, and on the night of the final, he seemed to be on his way to converting those few into many.
Except that he hit one straight to Shardul Thakur and before he could recover from being four down for 56 and make sense of the befuddled expression on his face, Pollard joined him in the dugout, dumbstruck at the appearance of a man who was almost a doppelganger for the ball boy behind the ropes just to the right of the sightscreen.
When Hardik Pandya was trapped in front and Karn Sharma dozed off after edging a bounce-ball to first slip, thereby allowing Thakur, again, to collect the throw, from first slip mind you, and outrun Sharma to the stumps, who was only halfway down the track, Rohit was rolling-on-the-floor-laughing but only in bewilderment.
There are some haphazard moments in life when spiraling down remains the only constant. You think of yourself as someone destined to have your whims meted out to you, and every step that you take towards getting those luxuries takes you further down the road of obscurity and loneliness.
On the night of the final, Mumbai were obscure and Krunal was lonely at the crease, and just like the lesser privileged dwell and thrive amidst hardships, Pandya played an innings that would definitely be lost in the din of what happened later – only because Pandya had played that knock.
Pune come out with the most stable opening pair to have survived in the league of uncertain lineups, captains, coaches, owners and... teams. With nothing to lose, losing a final chasing 129 on a slow pitch with Ajinkya Rahane at the top of the order would be akin to doing an Alastair Cook instead of a Kevin Pietersen.
Rahul Tripathi had made a name out of the fabled first name ‘Rahul’ by driving good length balls for fours through the covers which, amidst other things, Sachin Tendulkar found Sehwag-like.
What Tendulkar also found worth noticing was Jasprit Bumrah’s emergence from the dugout to ‘that’ super over. And it was Bumrah, who, just like he’d knocked over Chris Gayle in ‘that’ semi-final, sent Gayle’s right-handed mirage, as far as this season is concerned, back in the third over.
When you’re in the quest of the seemingly impossible, every intrusion that you make into the impermeable walls of fate seems to be a victory in itself. But those moments could be solitary, could be exhausting and demeaning, and for all you know, you might not make it to the other end.
Smith joins Rahane at the crease and makes those walls look like skyscrapers. The slowness of the pitch was matched by the slowness (read ease) of run-scoring, and by the 12th over the IPL was on its way to having no defending champion next season.
Hence, when Rahane fell in the 12th, holding out to Pollard at long-on, there could not have been a better consolation for Mumbai. However, the two-time champions celebrated as if they had the driver's seat under their bottoms, feet on the pedestal and hands groping the steering wheel.
And when Bumrah got MS Dhoni caught behind, they celebrated as if they had won the league. Perhaps it was this infectious energy and ambitions bordering on foolhardiness that made Pune dig potholes for themselves on a smooth road to victory.
Manoj Tiwary was pushed down the order to accommodate the greatest finisher of the game at No. 4, who was expected the finish the greatest T20 match of the season. The touted greatest finisher and the man who had actually finished more games than the finisher this season, both failed to finish at a strike-rate of over 100.
The run rate escalates to nine per over, that had started from six-and-a-half, and all of a sudden thirty runs are needed off the last three. Dhoni had scored these many against the Sunrisers, but he was back in the dugout.
Malinga, IPL’s most successful bowler, who had been at his least successful this season, nails three yorkers off his first four. That, right there, would have given the team owners a good enough reason to retain him for the next season.
They might still do that notwithstanding the fact that Smith hit his fourth yorker off the over, over square leg by going deep into the crease. The Aussie takes a single off the next one to make it 23 off 12.
Mumbai give it to Bumrah, and the 23-year-old betters what the veteran did in the previous over by bowling four yorkers, or shall I say sister yorkers, on the trot. 19 off 8 in the IPL final looks treacherous and Smith proves just how treacherous these moments could be, by launching the fifth over long-off for a maximum.
All the pressure, all the effort of bowling yorkers after yorkers wasted in a flash. Whoosh! You practice penance and patience for months and life won’t bat an eye, you err for a moment, and it will set your world on fire.
Bumrah’s length ball was the outburst of a two-month long penance of not bowling anything else. It was enough, though, to bring the equation down to 11 off 6.
Matthew Hayden had differentiated between Mitchell Johnson and Glenn McGrath by declaring that while Johnson bowled as fast as he could and made things happen, McGrath had a plan for every ball.
Whether Johnson had a plan in place or not was irrelevant when Tiwary carved him over square for a first-ball four. Incidentally, Johnson had asked for a fielder at the same position, but his captain didn’t agree.
The Dhoni-clan that constituted a large portion of the Hyderabad crowd makes a raucous issue of that boundary, only to be silenced by Kieron Pollard at long-on who calms everyone down by gulping down the ball hit straight to him.
It didn’t matter as much, for as long as the queen is intact, the pawns don’t hold a value. The batsmen had crossed and Smith was on strike.
Johnson comes around the stumps and fires one full outside off. Smith oozes class from every orifice in his vicinity and carves that one over extra cover. Rayudu oozes humour in the way he nearly shells the ball, and Johnson oozes what every Aussie necessary does – exuberation marked by high decibels, that are as irrelevant in an empty stadium as they were in this din.
Smith is heartbroken, more than ever, even more than the day he had a brain fade. He would have reached Sydney in the time that he took to reach the dugout, and Washington Sundar, the hero of the last game, was now asked to hit 7 off 3.
Sundar sneaks a bye first-ball, Christian steals a couple next ball, but they were just that – steals. The soul had vanquished with the departure of their captain.
Jagdeesh Suchith was out in the middle, and he was out there only because the last ball had to be hit to him. And he had to fumble, first, and then throw it right over the stumps so that Parthiv – the one less prone to fumble in an IPL final – could run Sundar out and win Mumbai the final by 1 run.