So the final four teams for the Playoffs in Indian Premier League 2015 were decided – Chennai Super Kings (CSK), Mumbai Indians (MI), Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Rajasthan Royals (RR).
Did you spot my preferred team? Not that I want to brag... but keeping up tradition CSK were in the playoffs again – 8 in 8, not a bad stat, I say!
Anyway, to sum up the journey to the final...
In the first qualifier MI faced CSK at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. That wasn't a night I would like to remember. MI had everything going for them from the word ‘go’: they won the toss, decided to bat first, Simmons as the Opener and Pollard at the end packed enough punches with a volley of sixes and boundaries to take the score to 187 – a respectable total but a gettable one.
But CSK stumbled. Must I go into this? Suffice it to say that minus the McCullum ammunition (he had gone back to New Zealand to play for his country) CSK seemed to have no spark! Apart from Faf du Plessis innings and a spurt of sixes by Ashwin in the end there is not much to write about CSK's soft chase. Two consecutive (prime) wickets of Raina and Dhoni (he got out for a duck!) were the game changer. CSK did not cross the finish line and as a result MI won by 25 runs and marched into their 3rd IPL final. (If this wasn't bad enough, they are my least favourite team.)
But, all was not lost, ek life abhi aur thi...
The eliminator match, a day later, saw two ‘royal’ teams pitched against each other. RCB faced RR at the MCA Stadium in Pune. What followed was a commanding performance by Virat's men. Even though there was no Gayle storm, as predicted, and Virat failed to fire, AB de Villiers rose to the occasion. The less said about RR's chase of their target 181 the better. Apart from Rahane, absolutely no one seemed to have the heart to bat! Some poor shot selection, hurry to make runs, allowing the pressure to build up brought RR to their heaviest defeat of this IPL – by 71 runs!
So CSK faced RCB in Ranchi in the 2nd qualifier.
On the day, Dhoni won the toss and chose to ball first. It turned out to be a good decision as they were able to keep down RCB's total to mere 139 runs. Gayle showed a bit of promise but their other two big batsmen failed to deliver when it mattered the most – Kohli, ABD went for very cheaply.
CSK ambled to the target, helped by a composed 57 from Hussey (‘Mr. Cricket’ as he is called) along with a few histrionics from MSD and Negi in the end. CSK (and I) made it to our 6th IPL final (a record). What a life!
Finally, the D-day was here. Déjà vu from 2013 – MI and CSK in the IPL Finals at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
The stats favoured MI (12-11) – and on hindsight I can say the day did too. With CSK winning the toss, Dhoni, going contrary to what expert believed he should do, chose to ball first. Parthiv Patel's brilliant run out by a flick throw from Du Plessis in the first over had me ecstatic – I could sniff victory. But to my utter disbelief and disappointment that was the only cheer. From then on catches were dropped, every other ball disappeared over the boundary and everything that could go wrong did. Rohit Sharma and Lendl Simmons tore apart the lacklustre bowling attack. They amassed 119 runs in 11 overs! By the end, CSK faced a mammoth target of 203.
A super sluggish start in the powerplay by the openers, followed by spectacular nonperformance with the bat decided which way the match would go. The regular fall of wickets ensured that CSK could not recover. McCullum's absence was glaringly felt; there was no magical finish by Dhoni; they fell short of the total by 41 runs in the end!
My team had LOST – to their nemesis MI. Gosh! How much can I handle... first the World Cup and now this!
MI were IPL Champions for a second time. To give them credit, they had scripted a dramatic turnaround. They went from a team that sat at the bottom of the table for the first two weeks of the series to being the 2015 Champions. But that does not mean I found their beaming faces easy to bear – players, mentors, owners, holding the cup that was supposed to be in my team's hands!
Don't worry, watching cricket has made me mentally strong. I was very graceful in defeat and even congratulated my friends (IPL foes) who were supporting MI.
Though it did take a chocolate ice cream before I could do so!
Illustration: Rahul Kumar