Finally, the IPL trophy has come back to its spiritual home, Chennai. The city’s franchise did run into rough waters but it still boasts the best IPL crowds and the most consistent team, which won its third title with a chase that was as much perfection as it was a tribute to their captain MS Dhoni’s philosophies.
Ridiculed as dad’s army for picking players a little long in the tooth, Super Kings won the final on a century from the 36-year-old Shane Watson, all but hobbling through for most of his run runs after having taken 11 balls to get off the mark. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan, champion bowlers both, went for 17 and 24 in their allotment of four overs each, but that brought no panic to Super Kings’ ranks. It was crucial that these two were not given a wicket; a maiden rather than a wicket. Ruthlessly, meanwhile, Watson targeted the young bowlers from Punjab, Siddarth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma, who went for 95 in their seven overs.
If the chase was perfection, Super Kings were asked to dig into their defensive reserves when they bowled first. Sunrisers batted a little like Super Kings: take it slow at the start, keep wickets in hand, put pressure on the bowlers and go big at the death. Lungi Ngidi and Shardul Thakur, though, bowled well to restrict them to just 52 runs in the last five overs.
It was the fourth time CSK had beaten Sunrisers in four meetings this season, an emphatic record against the team that had finished top of the league stage.
Super Kings began with a beamer followed by a free hit, but they soon pulled things back. This was a stretch of play where both sides were waiting to see who blinks first. After having lost wickets early in the first qualifier against the same opposition, Sunrisers didn’t try anything adventurous against Deepak Chahar and Ngidi, scoring 42 for 1 in the Powerplay.
Dhawan, Williamson look to tee off but…
Having gone at about a run a ball inside the Powerplay, Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson had to become more urgent at some point. Williamson began doing that with Dwayne Bravo, introduced early again because he has not been at his best at the death. For Dhawan the opportunity presented itself when Ravindra Jadeja came on to bowl, turning the ball back into him. As expected he went down for the big slog sweep, but he missed and the ball hit the thigh pad to deviate onto his stumps. Sunrisers 64 for 2 in the ninth.
Runs and wickets keep coming
On the big final day, though, Sunrisers’ middle order kept bringing the runs. Shakib Al Hasan did to Jadeja what Dhawan wanted to do: take four, six and four in his first two overs. Williamson kept tapping Bravo for boundaries. Then again, Dhoni’s golden touch worked. Karn Sharma, IPL champion for the last two years with Sunrisers and Mumbai Indians, brought in just for this match, had Williamson stumped off a wide ball.
But, again, yet another batsman hit the ground running. Yusuf Pathan hit two boundaries in the first seven balls he faced, and the innings was back on track. Deepak Hooda fell cheaply but, at 144 for 5, Sunrisers would have backed themselves for a reprise of the destruction they executed at the end of their innings in the 2016 final.
Ngidi, Thakur stifle Sunrisers
The carnage began with 16 coming off the 18th over, bowled by Bravo, who signed off with the second-worst economy rate at death this season. The only man worse than him was Thakur, who would bowl the 20th. Ngidi and Thakur, though, bowled two excellent overs with six deliveries not scored off. Only 18 came off those two overs, and Super Kings had the momentum going into the chase.
Watson plays out Bhuvneshwar
In the last match between these two sides, Bhuvneshwar tortured Watson before taking him out for a five-ball duck. Yet again, Watson took first strike. This time Bhuvneshwar missed the shoulder of his bat twice by inches in a maiden over. If Watson was under pressure, he didn’t show it. He would play out four more dots before coolly off-driving a four off Sandeep.
The pressure, though, resulted in Faf du Plessis’ wicket. Williamson went against his usual practice of bowling Bhuvneshwar for two overs at the top, one at the death and keeping one for the middle when he needs a wicket. Watson and Suresh Raina showed great awareness of what was happening. If they could play this third over out, they would have to contend with only Rashid in the middle overs. Play out they did, reaching 20 for 1 in five overs.
In the sixth over of the chase, the carnage that sealed the win began. Watson got absolutely stuck into Sandeep and Kaul. Sandeep’s third over went for 15. Kaul made one mistake in his first over, and Watson was all over him. His over went for 16. At 51 for 1 in seven, the asking rate was back under 10.
Williamson would have ideally wanted to bowl Rashid to two right-hand batsmen, Dhoni preferably one of them, given his struggles against this bowler, but Super Kings just didn’t take any risk against him. The next four overs brought: 5, 16, 8, 15. It is easy to tell which of these were bowled by Rashid.
Watson had brought up his fifty by then, but he wasn’t done hurting Sandeep yet. This is a time when Williamson usually goes back to Bhuvneshwar but on this night he couldn’t. Watson launched three sixes and two fours in the 13th over to practically end the chase there. Only about a run a ball was required now, which Watson and Ambati Rayudu managed without a bother.