The Dubai International Stadium welcomed 2 deserving finalists of the Dream 11 IPL to its lush green grounds. IPL 2020 has been remarkable in more ways than one. It has been the most contested IPL season so far in its 12-year history. Apart from the cricketing reasons, it was a breakthrough season as the BCCI managed to host the entire IPL season in a bio-bubble without any logistical disaster. Kudos to the entire BCCI team led by Sourav Ganguly and Jay Shah for making sure that the organization of the tournament was absolutely right. A global audience got a taste of what Indian hospitality looks like.
DC and MI have been the best teams in the league stages so far and it was only fitting that these two teams competed in the finals. The fact that two deserving teams were playing the final speaks to the tried and tested structure that the IPL has built over the years. The road to the finals, especially with the playoff structure in place, is so convoluted that no team can get lucky.
It was an even more special feeling for DC as it was their first time in the tournament finals. When DC played in the finals this year, a unique era came to an end. All 8 franchises have played in the IPL finals at some point in the last 13 seasons. This speaks volumes for the competitive nature of the tournament, which brings out young up-and-comers from time to time. MI on the other hand were seasoned preachers who have been there and done it 4 times in the past. If MI were on song, it was important in the tournament that DC win the final and bat first as that would ensure a competitive final. I was skeptical that if MI batted first, they had the firepower to put up a 200 plus total that would virtually eliminate DC from the contest at the halfway stage. It was very important that the final of such a difficult season turned out to be competitive. Fortunately for fans, DC won the wrestleback and struck first.
Marcus Stoinis and Shikhar Dhawan succumbed to the pressure of the big final. A backer from Boult got Stoinis out in the very first over as Stoinis smashed one to QDK to push Delhi back. Against the moving ball, Stoinis’ legs went nowhere and it was clear he was suffering from grand final nerves, something we are not used to seeing from Australian players. In the grand final, Dhawan played some of the craziest shots in cricket. Jayant Yadav was brought in for Rahul Chahar precisely because of Shikhar Dhawan and the experienced left-hander was subjected to the same. Having lost 2 wickets in the first 3 overs, Dhawan tried a wild ugly shot that kept straight and dropped him. DC were reduced to 22-3 in 4 overs and MI were on the verge of running away with the game.
Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer brought things together from then on, much to the relief of the DC fans. Personally, I have never been a big fan of Rishabh Pant because of his lack of temperament and off-balance hitting which has continued to be his undoing for the past few years. However, in a critical match like the final, he came out well with the willow in hand. While Iyer played alert cricket better than runs with the ball, Rishabh Pant beat the likes of Krunal Pandya and Kieron Pollard to add some momentum to the innings.
Pant scored a crucial half-century at a strike rate of 150 and guided his team to a magnificent stand of 118 at the end of 15 overs. His quick pace also ensured that Iyer did not need to take too many risks and could anchor the innings from one end. While Pant should be credited for what he did tonight, he is becoming India’s own version of Mark Waugh. Just when you feel Rishabh Pant is coming of age and has a knock that will redefine his career, he falls for a silly knock.
Agony is the word I have for Pant-fans. Coulter Nile has already conceded 10 runs from 15 oversth over and Pant had no reason to play an off-balance move with his foot on the edge. Hardik took regular catches as the chance of an innings that could have defined Pant in the IPL final went begging.
Shreyas Iyer took it upon himself to take the DC score to a respectable level in the last 5 overs. Iyer was in fine touch as he hit a silky smooth unbeaten 65 to take his side to 157-6. However, much like the failure of the Powerplay overs, DC also scored 40 in the last 5 overs. A potential score of 180 was reduced to 157 due to a large number of wickets in the slog overs.
MI came out with a deadly clinical mindset. It was clear from the way Rohit Sharma got out to Ashwin in the very first over that the Hitman showed no signs of nerves on the big stage. Ashwin dismissed Rohit in their last clash and this time Rohit hit sixes and fours off consecutive deliveries to return the favor to his Indian teammate.
De Kock’s attack on his two compatriots, Rabada and Nortje, threw Shreyas Iyer’s plans into disarray. QDK scored 20 off 12 balls to give MI the ideal boost they needed to make the Men in Blue’s chase one-sided. By the time Stoinis dismissed QDK with another cross, MI had already killed off the chase with 45 off their first 4 overs. The biggest positive for MI this season has been the fact that they rarely lose wickets in clusters and as a result the opposition have always found it difficult to beat MI.
Surya Yadav showed his middle order batting skills tonight and also Rohit Sharma looked at a whole different level at the other end. When Rohit plays the front leg spinner it is an ominous sign for the opposition. More often than not, that shot means he’s at long range, and he’ll take down an opponent with surgical precision. Tonight, the six he hit off Nortje after a front foot pull in the 4th over indicated that this final belonged to him.
Despite Suriya’s nightmare run, Rohit kept his composure and took his side to the brink of victory with a brilliant 68. MI’s belligerent attack right from the start meant that Rabada and Nortje lost their line and could not recover. early failure, even later, in spelling. Rohit has been taking advantage of unhit balls down the leg side as he grabs boundaries in the middle overs for fun.
DC’s only bright spot in today’s bowling was Axar Patel. He bowled just 4 overs for 16 and threatened to stifle the run flow for MI for a while. Youngster Pravin Dubey was impressive in his first 2 overs but was then taken to the cleaners by Rohit and Ishan Kishan. Ishan Kishan has looked a much improved version in this year’s IPL and I am sure if he continues this form next season as well, he might not be far away from replacing Samson in the national team.
Pure power Ishan Kishan’s knock and silky knocks by Rohit Sharma ensured MI reached the target with 2 overs to spare. So MI raised themselves to the level of Brazil in the Football WC or Australia in the Cricket WC with 5 IPL titles to their name.
Great coaches always say that the team that sees the final as just another game is more likely to win it. A team that prepares specifically because of the final is more likely to lose. It is controversial but we have many examples in the past to prove the same. MI’s win tonight once again confirmed the theory that a more clinical, more professional side is likely to come out on top, rather than a side that craves dramatic individual performances from its team members in the final.