Tue, 21 May 2019

The IPL 2019 final boils down to the last over. It boils down to the last ball. Go for broke or go home. Mumbai Indian Lasith Malinga v Chennai Super Kings' Mumbai boy Shardul Thakur. The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad is a cauldron of chaos. A packed crowd of 33,209 is on tenterhooks. There are multiple conferences in Mumbai's camp. Their captain Rohit Sharma finally tucks Malinga into a corner and hatches a plan against Thakur.

Rohit was Thakur's first captain in first-class cricket at Mumbai and more recently in 2018 he had captained Thakur in that Nidahas T20I tri-series in Sri Lanka. Thakur is a handy lower-order batsman who has made five first-class fifties. He gives it a good ol' hack when there's pace on the ball. Case in point: his vital cameo of 15 off 5 balls in the first qualifier last season. Sunrisers' Hyderabad Siddarth Kaul offered up pace, and Thakur swung for the hills and somehow found three boundaries, of which two came via edges. Super Kings won.

Pace on the ball had straightjacketed both a well-set Shane Watson and new man Ravindra Jadeja in the this final. The first five balls from Malinga were all pinpoint yorkers or hard-to-hit low full-tosses that were clocked at 142.3kph, 143kph, 141.7kph, 140.6kph and 140.3kph. Sunil Gavaskar on air reckoned Malinga "doesn't have the pace anymore". But, here was Malinga - creaky knees and all - willing himself to breach the 140kph mark again and again.

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Thakur had just swiped the fifth ball - a leg-stump full-toss - to deep backward square leg and hared back for the second. Earlier in the tournament, Kagiso Rabada had delivered six rapid yorkers to deny Kolkata Knight Riders in a Super Over.

Rohit and Malinga knew that even if Thakur could get the thinnest of edges off the final ball he could force the final into a Super Over. So, the plan was to go for Thakur's wicket, with the tournament on the line. The plan was to drop the pace and ask Thakur to manufacture it for himself if he could.

Malinga ditched the fast yorker for the slower dipping yorker. He ditched the around-the-wicket angle and went over the wicket. An 112.3kph slower ball floated into the toes of Thakur, but it still had the torpedo effect of a yorker. Boom. Game over for Super Kings. Mumbai clinched a record fourth IPL title.

"See when the situation like that comes, both teams are under pressure," Rohit said of the last-gasp finish. "The bowler and the batsman - both are under pressure. At that point, what you decide is very, very crucial. You know we didn't want to take it to the Super Over. We thought we could take a wicket and finish it off there... it could've gone either way.

"But the idea was to get the batsman out, so I know Shardul [Thakur] really well. He plays for Mumbai and I've known him for a long long time. I kind of understand where he wants to hit, so we decided together - me and Malinga - that we'll go for that slower option, because knowing Shardul, he would try to play a big shot and there might be a chance that he might just sky it. Again, it could've gone either way, he could've just middled the ball and it could have cleared the ground also. At that point you've to be brave and take those crucial decisions."

After sending a nerveless last over, Kieron Pollard hoisted Malinga on his shoulders and ferried him around the ground. Malinga's former Sri Lanka captain and current Mumbai coach Mahela Jayawardene then indulged in some bromance that might have made Kumar Sangakkara jealous.

The start of the second innings, though, wasn't as rosy for Malinga. Watson had lined him up in the last over of the Powerplay, scything him away for three boundaries. Malinga was hit out of the attack and when he returned Watson was more severe on him, shellacking four boundaries in five balls. Malinga ended up leaking 42 runs in three overs. He had also messed up in the field, when he dropped Watson on 31 at short fine leg.

However, Malinga had it in him to clean up the mess and deliver the title for Mumbai. Thakur, at the other end, fell just short. While Malinga had his hands aloft at the close, Thakur slumped to his knees. It was a night of contrasting fortunes.

Until the final, Thakur was a mere safety net for Super Kings. In the second qualifier against Delhi Capitals, Dhoni needed just one over from him and got the job done through the spinners. But in the final, Thakur became the spine of the bowling attack. After Quinton de Kock took Deepak Chahar for 20 off 11 balls, Dhoni turned to Thakur and the quick responded by bouncing out de Kock. With the big-hitting South African out of the way, Deepak returned to the attack in the next over and nabbed Rohit in a wicket-maiden.

Thakur then bounced out Krunal Pandya and tore across from his followthrough towards square leg to take the catch as if his life depended on it. He fell on his backside and then casually slid onto his knees, blowing kisses to the crowd. Thakur could have had Hardik Pandya, too, on 4 had Suresh Raina not misjudged a skier at cover

Thakur was Super Kings' hero in the first innings, helping limit Mumbai to 149 for 8. But, his chances against Malinga's magical slower ball under pressure was zero. Zip. Zilch.

Agony for Thakur and Super Kings. Ecstasy for Malinga and Mumbai. That's the cruel nature of T20 cricket, but it did serve up a blockbuster finish on Sunday.

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