Dubai international stadium welcomed the 2 deserving finalists of the Dream 11 IPL onto its lush green field. The 2020 IPL has been a remarkable one in more than one sense. It has been the most keenly contested IPL season so far, in its 12 year-long histories. Besides cricketing reasons, it has been a landmark season as BCCI managed to host the entire IPL season in a bio bubble without any logistical disasters. Kudos to the entire team of BCCI under Sourav Ganguly and Jay Shah for ensuring that the organization of the tournament was absolutely on point. The global audience got a taste of what Indian hospitality looks like.
DC and MI have been the best teams by far in the league stages and it was only fitting that these two teams competed in the finals. The fact, that two worthy teams were playing the final speaks volumes about the tried-and-tested structure that IPL has put in place over the years. The road to the final, especially with the playoff structure in place is so convoluted that no team can proceed to that stage by sheer luck.
It was a more special feeling for DC because this was the first time they were in the finals of the tournament. With DC playing the finals this year, a unique circle was completed. All the 8 franchises have played in the IPL finals at some point or the other in the last 13 seasons. This speaks so much about the competitive nature of the tournament, which has thrown up young emerging players from time to time. MI, on the other hand, was the seasoned campaigners having been there and having done it for 4 times in the past. With MI on the song, in the tournament, it was essential that DC won the toss in the finals and batted first, as that would ensure a competitive final. I was skeptical that, if MI batted first they had the firepower to lodge a 200 plus total that would virtually eliminate DC from the contest at the halfway stage. It was very important that the final for such a hard-fought season turned out to be competitive. Luckily for fans, DC won the toss and batted first.
Marcus Stoinis and Shikhar Dhawan succumbed to the pressure of the big final. A nip-backer from Boult had Stoinis squared up in the very first over, as Stoinis edged one to QDK to set Delhi back. Against a moving ball, Stoinis’ feet went nowhere and it was clear that he suffered from the nerves of a big final- something that we are not used to seeing from Australian Players. Dhawan played the most mindless of cricket shots in a big final. Jayant Yadav has been brought on in place of Rahul Chahar, just because of Shikhar Dhawan and the experienced left-hander succumbed to the same. Having lost 2 wickets in the first 3 overs, Dhawan tried to play a wild ugly hack to a ball that kept straight and castled him. DC was reduced to 22-3 in 4 overs and MI was on the verge of running away with the game.
Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer consolidated things from here on, much to the relief of DC fans. I have personally never been a huge fan of Rishabh Pant, because of his lack of big match temperament and his off-balance shots, which continue to be his undoing over the last couple of years. However, in a critical match like the final, he came good with the willow in hand. While Iyer played watchful cricket at just better than run-a-ball, Rishabh Pant took on the likes of Krunal Pandya and Kieron Pollard to provide some momentum to the inning.
Pant scored a vital brisk half-century at a strike rate of 150 and guided his team to an excellent platform of 118 at the end of 15 overs. His rapid pace also ensured that Iyer need not take an undue risk and could anchor the inning from one end. While Pant needs to be appreciated for what he has done tonight, he is growing up to be India’s very own version of Mark Waugh. Just at the point, you feel Rishabh Pant is coming off age and playing a knock that will redefine his career, he falls to a stupid shot.
Agony is the word I have for Pant-fans. Coulter Nile has already conceded 10 runs off the 15th over and Pant had no reason to play an off-balance flick with fine-leg on the boundary. Hardik took a regulation catch, as the opportunity for an inning that could have defined Pant in an IPL final was left begging.
Shreyas Iyer took the mettle on himself to take the DC score to a respectable level in the last 5 overs. Iyer looked in excellent touch as he scored a silky smooth chanceless 65 to take his team to 157-6. However, much like the debacle in the powerplay overs, DC scored 40 in the last 5 overs as well. A potential score of 180 was reduced to 157 because of the flurry of wickets in the slog overs.
MI came out to bat with a clinical mindset. It was clear from the way Rohit Sharma stepped out to Ashwin in the very first over, that the Hitman had no signs of nerves on the big stage. Ashwin dismissed Rohit in their last clash and this time Rohit slammed a six and four off consecutive deliveries to return the favor to his Indian teammate.
The onslaught by De Kock on his two countrymates-Rabada and Nortje threw all plans of Shreyas Iyer into disarray. QDK scored 20 off 12 balls to give the MI inning that ideal impetus that the Men in Blue needed to make the chase onesided. By the time, Stoinis dismissed QDK with another cross-seamer, MI had already killed the chase with 45 from their first 4 overs. The biggest positive for MI this season has been the fact, that they have rarely lost wickets in clusters and as a result oppositions have always found it tough to defeat MI.
Surya Yadav showed his middle-order batting skills tonight as well as Rohit Sharma looked on a different level altogether at the other end. When Rohit plays that front-foot swivel pull, it is an ominous sign for the opposition. More often than not, that shot signifies that he is in for the long-haul and he will decimate the opposition with surgical precision. Tonight, the six he scored of Nortje off the front-foot pull in the 4th over was an indication that this final belonged to him.
In spite of a nightmarish runout of Surya, Rohit kept his calm and brought his side to the brink of victory courtesy of a brilliant 68. The belligerent attack from MI from the outset meant that Rabada and Nortje lost their lines and could not recover from the early setback even later in the spell. Rohit capitalized on the loose balls down the leg side as he scored boundaries for fun in the middle overs.
The only bright spot for DC in tonight’s bowling was Axar Patel. He bowled 4 overs for just 16 and threatened to choke the flow of runs for MI for a while. Young Pravin Dubey was impressive in his first 2 overs, but then he was taken to the cleaners by Rohit and Ishan Kishan. Ishan Kishan looks a much-improved version in this year’s IPL and I am sure that if he carries on this sort of form in the next season as well, he may not be far from replacing Samson in the national setup.
Clean power hitting from Ishan Kishan and silky strokes from Rohit Sharma ensured that MI reached the target in a canter with 2 overs to spare. MI thus elevated themselves to the level of Brazil in Football WC or, Australia in Cricket WC, with 5 IPL titles to their name.
Great coaches always say that the team, who sees a final as just another match, is more likely to win it. The team, which prepares especially because of a final is more likely to lose it. It is counterintuitive, but we have ample examples in the past to prove the same. Tonight MI’s victory once again validated the theory that the more clinical, more professional side is likely to come out on top, rather than the side which seeks dramatic individual performances from its team members in the final.