The Dubai International Stadium welcomed the 2 deserving finalists of the Dream 11 IPL to its lush green pitch. The 2020 IPL has been remarkable in more ways than one. It has been the most closely contested IPL season so far, in its 12-year history. Other than cricket reasons, it has been a landmark season as BCCI managed to stage the entire IPL season in a bio-bubble without any logistical disaster. Congratulations to the entire BCCI team under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly and Jay Shah for ensuring the organization of the tournament was flawless. The global audience got a taste of what Indian hospitality is like.
DC and MI have been the better teams by far in the league stages and it was only fitting that these two teams would compete in the finals. The fact that two worthy teams were playing in the final says a lot about the proven structure that IPL has put in place over the years. The road to the finals, especially with the playoff structure in place, is so complicated that no team can get to that stage by sheer luck.
It was an extra special feeling for DC because this was the first time they had been in the finals of the tournament. With DC playing the final this year, a unique circle has been completed. All 8 franchises have played in the IPL finals at one point or another in the last 13 seasons. This speaks volumes about the competitive nature of the tournament, which has thrown up emerging young players from time to time. MI, on the other hand, was that seasoned activists have been there and have been there 4 times in the past. With MI on the song, in the tournament, it was essential that DC win the toss in the final and bat first, as that would ensure a competitive final. I was skeptical that if MI batted first they would have the firepower to put up a 200+ total that would pretty much knock DC out of the contest mid-stage. It was very important that the final of such a close season be competitive. Fortunately for the fans, DC won the toss and batted first.
Marcus Stoinis and Shikhar Dhawan succumbed to the pressure of the grand final. A nip-backer from Boult brought Stoinis to square one in the first over, when Stoinis edged one past QDK to drive Delhi back. Against a moving ball, Stoinis’ feet were going nowhere and it was clear he was suffering from Grand Final nerves, something we’re not used to seeing in Australian players. Dhawan played the wildest cricket shot ever in a grand final. Jayant Yadav has been signed instead of Rahul Chahar, only because Shikhar Dhawan and the experienced lefty succumbed to the same thing. Having lost 2 wickets in the first 3 overs, Dhawan tried to play an ugly wild trick on a ball that stayed straight and castled him. DC trailed to 22-3 in 4 overs and MI nearly walked away with the game.
Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer cemented things from now on, much to the relief of DC fans. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Rishabh Pant, due to his lack of temper in big matches and his unbalanced shots, which continue to be his downfall in recent years. However, in a critical game like the final, he came out well with the willow in hand. While Iyer played watchman cricket on something better than running a ball, Rishabh Pant faced the likes of Krunal Pandya and Kieron Pollard to give the innings some momentum.
Pant scored a vital spirited 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 quick pace also ensured that Iyer did not have to take undue risk and was able to anchor the tackle from one end. While Pant is to be appreciated for what he’s done tonight, he’s growing up to be India’s version of Mark Waugh. Just when you feel like Rishabh Pant is coming of age and playing a shot that will redefine his career, he falls for a stupid shot.
Agony is the word I have for Pant-fans. Coulter Nile has already conceded 10 races out of 15he and Pant had no reason to play an unbalanced move with thin leg at the limit. Hardik took a regulation catch, as the chance for a tackle that could have defined Pant in an IPL final ran out.
Shreyas Iyer took the trouble to bring DC’s scoring to a respectable level in the last 5 overs. Iyer looked terrific in touch as he hit a silky smooth 65 with no chances to lead his team to 157-6. However, just like the debacle in powerplay overs, DC have also scored 40 in the last 5 overs. A potential score of 180 was reduced to 157 due to 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 approached Ashwin in the first over that the Hitman had no signs of nervousness on the big stage. Ashwin sacked Rohit in their last meeting and this time Rohit hit a straight six and four to repay the favor for his Indian teammate.
De Kock’s attack on his two compatriots, Rabada and Nortje, upset all of Shreyas Iyer’s plans. QDK scored 20 of 12 balls to give MI’s tackle that ideal momentum the Men in Blue needed to make the chase one-sided. 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 groups and as a result the oppositions have always found it difficult to beat MI.
Surya Yadav showed off his mid-order batting skills tonight and Rohit Sharma looked on a whole different level at the other end. When Rohit plays that spinning jerk with his front foot, it’s an ominous sign for the opposition. More often than not, that shot means he’s in for the long haul and will decimate the opposition with surgical precision. Tonight, the six he scored off Nortje with his front foot jerk in the fourth over was an indication that this final belonged to him.
Despite a nightmarish outing from Surya, Rohit kept his cool and led his team to the brink of victory thanks to a scintillating 68. MI’s belligerent attack from the start meant Rabada and Nortje lost their lines and were unable to recover. from the mishap early even later in the spell. Rohit took advantage of loose balls down the side of the leg while 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 MI’s flow of runs for a while. Youngster Pravin Dubey was impressive in his first 2 overs but then Rohit and Ishan Kishan took him to the dry cleaners. Ishan Kishan looks like a much improved version in this year’s IPL and I am sure if he continues in this kind of form in the upcoming season as well, he may not be far from replacing Samson in the national setup.
Clean, powerful strikes from Ishan Kishan and silky strikes from Rohit Sharma ensured MI hit the target in a gallop with 2 overs to spare. MI thus rose to the level of Brazil in Football WC or, Australia in Cricket WC, with 5 IPL titles to his name.
The great coaches always say that the team, which sees a final as just another game, has a better chance of winning it. The team that prepares especially for a final has a better chance of losing it. It’s counter-intuitive, but we have ample examples in the past to prove the same thing. Tonight’s victory for MI once again validated the theory that the more clinical and professional side is likely to come out on top, rather than the side looking for dramatic individual performances from their team members in the final.