Bowled Over: The MI vs CSK Final Proved IPL is No Longer a Batsman’s Game

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Bowled Over: The MI vs CSK Final Proved IPL is No Longer a Batsman’s Game

Illustration: Arati Gujar

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fter Sunday’s thrilling final showdown of the 2019 IPL season in Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, we’re all in need of a nice, quiet lie-down. The much-anticipated battle between the Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, whose fierce rivalry is often called El Clasico of the IPL, went down to the final ball and saw Mumbai win by one run — proving that such a lofty comparison is not without merit. Each team went into the final with three tournament wins under their belt, with Chennai looking to win big in what might have been the last chance stalwart skipper MS Dhoni, now 37, had to lift the trophy again. But with every over, the needle seemed to swing from Mumbai to CSK and back, as unpredictable as Lasith Malinga’s wicket-taking yorker off the ultimate ball of the series.

Malinga’s redemption came on the back of three hideously expensive overs that could easily have cost Mumbai the tournament — so it’s fitting that he snatched a win by the merest whisker. Is there any more conclusive proof required that even when big hitters break their bats, it’s the bowling side that can make or break the game?

It was always going to be a clash of the titans. Both MI and CSK have been head and shoulders above the competition throughout the tournament, and both teams perpetually play as favourites. After Mumbai won the toss and elected to bat, CSK’s star bowlers, including Purple Cap winner Imran Tahir and pacer Deepak Chahar, fought back against a potentially deadly partnership between Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya, restricting MI to 149 runs. Despite chasing this modest total and a solid 80 (59) knock by Shane Watson, CSK couldn’t save themselves from the indignity of losing by a single run.

The smallest things can make the difference between a champion and a runner-up, especially in such a close game. Many have blamed a dispirited performance by Suresh Raina, the once-brilliant top scorer of the IPL, who not only ate up crucial early overs but also wasted both umpire appeals and dropped a sitter to give Hardik Pandya a new lease on life. Then there was the controversial dismissal of Dhoni in a tense run-out decision that went down to the millimetre, and the devastating loss of Watson in the last over, which fans have blamed on pressure by Ravindra Jadeja from the other end of the wicket.

But then, as Dhoni said after the match: “Both teams made mistakes today, but [Mumbai Indians] made one lesser mistake.” So slipshod was Mumbai’s fielding that the Super Kings were graced with four dropped catches, each mishap bringing us one step closer to losing Sachin Tendulkar to a rage-induced aneurysm.

Even Captain Cool Dhoni has admitted that it wasn’t great cricket that got his team so far, instead giving full credit to his bowlers. In some ways, this season of the league has been disappointing — or at least, not what we’ve come to expect from the IPL. Touching 200 runs has been a serious feat, with slow pitches like the Hyderabad ground limiting the fearsome fours and sixes we’ve seen in seasons past. Mumbai Indians famously defended a total of 129 in the same sticky stadium during the 2017 finals.

Still, what about the teams who had top scorers like Sunrisers Hyderabad, Delhi Capitals, and Royal Challengers Bangalore, and found themselves outclassed not just by Mumbai’s intimidating batting order, but by Chennai, who haven’t had a single standout hitter through the series? Nor was it the batsmen who ended up winning the day for the Indians.

If the battle between IPL’s giants has made one thing clear, it’s that T20 can no longer be dismissed or lauded as a batsman’s game. Just as the early years of the IPL were characterised by a new brand of batting, focussed on speedy power-hitting and popularising risky shots, a fresh approach to bowling has also emerged through the course of the league.

Even Captain Cool Dhoni has admitted that it wasn’t great cricket that got his team so far, instead giving full credit to his bowlers.

Look at 25-year-old Jasprit Bumrah, whom Sachin has referred to as the best bowler in the world. Holding his own among wily old Chennai foxes like 40-year-old Tahir, Bumrah’s slingy action ensured he gave only 14 runs away while picking up two wickets. Malinga, who also leapt to global fame due to his strange and inscrutable bowling style in the IPL, went on to teach the children (that is, CSK finisher Shardul Thakur) why a reliable death bowler is worth his weight in gold.

The common wisdom of the IPL, that it’s all about who can hit the biggest shots, has changed. Over the years, the record now dictates that batsmen might win matches, but it’s the bowling side that clinches tournaments. It’s taken a while to get here, but yesterday’s MI-CSK final cements the place that bowlers have earned in the league, as the real MVPs who can change the game faster than any 90-metre boundary.

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