Thriller in Uppal
It was a triumph of resilience. Any other team might have thrown in the towel after scoring 149/8 in an IPL final against Chennai Super Kings. Mumbai Indians, however, refused to be defeated. Rohit Sharma led with courage and composure. Rahul Chahar’s leg-spin choked the opposition. Jasprit Bumrah offered a throwback to the great West Indies pace quartet of the 1970s and early ‘80s, clocking 148kph at times and intimidating the batsmen, and at times even the ‘keeper. But Mumbai won because of their collective spirit; their fourth IPL title in five finals.
The battle between the IPL royalty lived up to its billing. It felt like a heavyweight bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman – ‘rumble in Uppal’. When third umpire Nigel Llong held his nerve and declared that MS Dhoni was a fraction short of his ground while trying to steal an overthrow, it felt like Mumbai had one hand on the cup. But Shane Watson was still there, a player who traditionally saves his best for the finals. Watson’s average in IPL finals is 78 and strike rate 174.
Watson had been riding his luck as well. Rahul had put down a caught-and- bowled chance when he was on 42. It happened on the heels of Dhoni’s departure, with Super Kings on 85/4. Rahul once again dropped a sitter at deep backward square off Bumrah, when Watson was on 55 and the team total 108/4.
Rohit probably brought on the wrong Pandya, Krunal, to bowl the 18th over. Watson hit three sixes to turn the tide. As the equation came down to 18 runs off 12 deliveries, it became Super Kings’ game to lose. But Mumbai had Bumrah, who bowled an outstanding penultimate over. Quinton de Kock, however, conceded four byes off the final ball of the over and the men in yellow needed just nine runs off the last over to defend the title.
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In came Lasith Malinga, off colour in his previous three overs but right on the money when it mattered most. Watson was run out off the second ball, going for a second. By then, he had run out of legs. Watson departed for 80 from 59 deliveries and it was the second turning point of the game, the first being Dhoni’s dismissal. With two runs required off the final ball, Malinga bowled a slower yorker to trap Shardul Thakur plumb in front. The latter might have missed a trick by not standing deep in the crease. MI didn’t mind. They won by a solitary run.
A gripping final also papered over an umpiring howler from Nitin Menon, who didn’t signal a wide, when Dwayne Bravo bowled well outside the tramline in the final over during Mumbai’s innings. Kieron Pollard, the batsman, mocked the umpire by taking strike outside the tramline for the next ball. Bravo pulled out and Pollard decided to revert to his normal stance only after the umpires intervened. In the context of the game, Pollard’s 41 not out off 25 balls proved to be hugely important.
Coming into the final, the three Super Kings Spinners – Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja – had 55 wickets between them. Their seamers, apart from Deepak Chahar, had been largely peripheral. At Uppal on Sunday, Tahir picked up two wickets but didn’t complete his full quota of four overs. Jadeja bowled only a couple and Harbhajan went wicketless, although his bowling was top-class.
The pitch at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium had a tinge of moisture to start with, overnight rain being the reason. The pitches here have assisted quick bowlers this term and Chahar and Thakur rose to the occasion.
The two seamers thrived under Dhoni’s superb captaincy. Thakur made early inroads, setting up de Kock who was dealing in fours and sixes. A short ball was slapped for a six by the Mumbai opener. It was a slower bouncer which de Kock had picked to perfection. The next delivery was also short, just that it had been hurled at 142kph. De Kock was cramped for room and gloved it to Dhoni behind the stumps.
Another bouncer in the first over of his second spell accounted for Krunal. The latter’s weakness against fast, short-pitched delivery was exposed, as Thakur completed a brilliant return catch on second attempt. He should have had a third, but Suresh Raina – fielding, batting, error in DRS judgment; he had a forgettable evening – dropped a sitter, as Hardik Pandya survived. Two sixes in that over somewhat ruined Thakur’s figures, but 2/37 from four overs was still very creditable.
Chahar bounced back brilliantly to return with 3/26 from four overs. During the course of the tournament, he grew into a Powerplay specialist. On Sunday, de Kock destroyed him in his second over, hitting sixes and collecting 20 runs. On his return from the other end, the medium pacer dismissed Rohit Sharma with a knuckleball. An excellent yorker at the death saw off Hardik, while two balls later he sent his brother Rahul packing and broke into a smile. It was a double wicket-maiden, which cancelled out a back-end charge from MI.
After the 20-run over, it seemed unlikely that Chahar would bowl again in the Powerplay. But as Thakur removed de Kock, the Super Kings skipper brought on Chahar from the other end. He preempted a Rohit charge. The Mumbai skipper went for an extravagant drive but managed an outside edge. Dhoni held back Tahir till the 11th over and as the partnership between Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan was taking shape, the leggie was brought on. Tahir dismissed Yadav off his second delivery.
The seamers and Dhoni’s captaincy had nicely set up Super Kings. But brittle batting yet again became their bugbear. In hindsight, they were also a batsman short.