Through twists and turns befitting the plot of a bestseller, the Indian Premier League final was decided off the last ball with spectators holding onto the edge of their seats and players chewing off their fingernails. Lasith Malinga turned hero from villain after conceding 20 runs in his previous over, trapping Shardul Thakur leg-before when Chennai Super Kings needed two runs of the last ball.
Shane Watson opened Chennai’s batting, stood like a rock when wickets kept falling and tore into the Mumbai’s bowling later, only to miss two balls in the end. Mumbai Indians turned the table in those two deliveries. With Jasprit Bumrah operating in tandem with Malinga, Mumbai held their nerve better but this was more a victory of cricket as an entertainer, and of the belief that experience always matters.
Two stats loomed big before the final. Twice in their three previous victories had Mumbai Indians batted first after winning the toss. And this season, they had won four out of the five times Quinton de Kock and Rohit Sharma had stayed unbeaten in the Powerplay. Sharma, more a boardroom strategist, didn’t hesitate to bat. Dhoni was only happy to play along, knowing well fielding wasn’t their strength.Restricting Mumbai Indians to 149 therefore, was more than what Dhoni could have asked for. Kieron Pollard applied the touch up as expected, with a 25-ball 41 but this was an innings where Mumbai were never going ballistic from both ends as they lost wickets at regular intervals. Quinton de Kock walloped Chahar for three sixes but Sharma departed three deliveries after Shardul Thakur broke the opening partnership. Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan couldn’t convert their promising starts.
In good form throughout the tournament, Hardik Pandya couldn’t stay on till the end, leaving Pollard to do whatever he could to push Mumbai’s case. Chennai started like Mumbai. Faced with two openers who preferred to grind out, Mumbai Indians looked lost, conceding overthrows when every run required steadfast defence.Chennai weren’t great in that department too. When Suresh Raina dropped a dolly off Hardik Pandya batting on four, Mumbai Indians were given a new subplot to explore. They couldn’t quite hit the demolition button though, scoring just 47 in the final 30 deliveries. Chennai Super Kings have to thank their spinners for that.
With De Kock letting the world know of his intentions, Dhoni meticulously unleashed his spinners to put the brakes on Mumbai, starting with Harbhajan Singh. Pace was a welcome change. Kishan helped himself to a boundary over mid-on off Dwayne Bravo. A full toss on leg stump four deliveries later was swept for another boundary. That was cue for Yadav to ramp up the scoring but Imran Tahir cleaned him up next over before dislodging Kishan.
And when Shardul Thakur took probably the catch of the tournament off his own bowling to send back Krunal Pandya, Chennai knew they had to take just one wicket to deny Mumbai a rousing finish. Hardik was their man.
Chennai’s good start turned bad within a matter of overs when Raina and Ambati Rayudu in the space of seven deliveries. And then entered Dhoni. Jasprit Bumrah sized him up with a delivery that whistled past the bat held out merely to stave it off. He let the next ball go the keeper before presenting his full bat forward in defence. Suddenly, Bumrah gave the glimmer of hope Mumbai were looking for.
Watson came to a standstill as well. Repeatedly failing to pierce the gap between gully and point off Hardik, Watson finally turned a delivery towards fine-leg for a single. An overthrow however prompted Dhoni to scamper for an extra run but Kishan’s throw from deep cover clattered into the stumps at the bowler’s end. Two angles suggested two decisions but after a long deliberation --- possibly the longest in this tournament --- Dhoni was adjudged out. The drama, clearly, wasn’t over.