Mahendra Singh Dhoni played his part to perfection in an extraordinary script as he led Chennai Super Kings to their fourth Indian Premier League title, outwitting Kolkata Knight Riders by 27 runs in a one-sided final on Friday.
As the final delivery was bowled, the old ‘Band Master’ had that lingering smile at the far corner of his lips having orchestrated his ‘Men’, who knows may be one last time.
Unarguably, the most loved and revered Indian captain of all time led a team of old warhorses with oodles of experience as they first posted a formidable target of 192 for 3 and then squeezed Knights for only 165 for 9 despite a promising opening stand of 91 between Shubman Gill (51 off 43 balls) and Venkatesh Iyer (50 off 32 balls).
It was canny captaincy that ensured 91 for no loss turned into 125 for 8 and before one realised, it seemed there was only one team on the park.
Josh Hazlewood (2/29 in 4 overs), Ravindra Jadeja (2/37 in 4 overs), Shardul Thakur (3/38 in 4 overs) got the wickets at regular intervals but it was the wily old Dwayne Bravo (1/29 in 4 overs), whose first two overs for eight runs with five dots which actually became a game-changer.
Dhoni and Bravo go back a long way. The skipper knows what his ‘Go To Man’ is capable of and the ‘Champion’ knew that he had to deliver.
Not many words were exchanged between the General and his loyal soldier as they had their blueprint ready.
When India won the 1985 Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket, Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, Madan Lal, all then on the wrong side of 30s, used to congratulate each other after every dismissal calling “Well Done OT” which meant ‘Over Thirty’.
That class of 85 was a very experienced bunch that won a big trophy and one could see similar traits in Dhoni’s brigade, which since its comeback in 2018, has been called the ‘Dad’s Army’.
And it was indeed a ‘Daddies’ Day Out’ as 37-year-old Faf Du Plessis smashed 86 off 59 while Robin Uthappa, now at 35, did what he used to as a cocky 21-year-old nearly decade-and-half back. He smashed 31 off 15 balls with three sixes.
Then it was left to the recently-retired Test cricketer, the 34-year-old Moeen Ali (37 off 20 balls), who found gaps with ease to give the perfect finishing touch.
When it came to bowling and fielding, the main job was done by 38-year-old Bravo and 32 year-old Jadeja. The only aberration was ‘Orange Cap’ winner Ruturaj Gaikwad (635 runs), who probably would be synonymous with the franchise for years to come.
These are players who decided they would make this ‘Charge of the Old Brigade’ a reality and show that T20 is a format where experience worth its weight in gold is way more important than mere youthful exuberance and brilliance of talent.
IPL success requires game awareness, an attribute which the ‘Man from Jharkhand’ possesses abundantly.
When KKR chased, Dhoni took some time to gauge that the pitch was slowing down and once Bravo operated post Powerplay, it was CSK’s game to win and they did it in style reaffirming that Dhoni in retirement remains the ‘Captain of Captains’ even when there is another world champion skipper at the other end.
CSK needed a slice of luck at the start and former Proteas skipper du Plessis got that reprieve in the third over when Dinesh Karthik bungled an easy stumping chance.
He then made full use by smashing seven fours and three sixes and also finished as the second highest run-getter behind Gaikwad.
All standout shots came off Lockie Ferguson and there was a cracking over drive and two sixes over the long-off region. Ferguson (0/56 in 4 overs) had a forgettable day in office.
An opening stand of 61 in eight overs with ‘flavour of the season’ Gaikwad (32 off 27 balls) set the tone and then Uthappa, who had decided to roll back the years, hit his signature pick-up sixes over the deep mid-wicket region.
The 63 runs added in only 5.2 overs did derail KKR’s bowling with only Sunil Narine (2/26 in 4 overs) getting his length and variations in pace right.
If that wasn’t enough, another veteran Moeen joined the party as suddenly du Plessis played the second fiddle letting the England international go hammer and tongs at the KKR bowling. They added 68 in 6.3 overs.
He first snuffed out Gaikwad, who was caught in the deep, and then bowled a straight one which Uthappa missed the line trying to go for the reverse sweep.
The reason why KKR lost the plot during the first 10 overs was Shakib (0/33 in 3 overs) losing his confidence after Karthik’s missed stumping and in the process the length going all awry.
Adding insult to the injury was Ferguson, whose express pace which had been the difference during the UAE leg, became his undoing from the moment Gaikwad sliced him between cover and point.
Du Plessis then transformed using the pace for big hits into art form with an able hand in Moeen, who found the gaps on both sides of the wickets with finesse while lofting the maximums with effortless ease. (Courtesy PTI)