Once again, the Chennai Super Kings were involved, albeit indirectly. Dhoni’s men must have felt like Christmas came early when KKR talisman Sunil Narine – also the highest wicket-taker of the tournament (again), as well as arguably the best T20 spinner in the world—was disqualified from playing in the Final.
This meant that there was only going to be one winner, and it wasn’t going to be cricket.
The Knight Riders, led ably by down-and-out Gautam Gambhir, have been a revelation in 2014. After starting the IPL in poor fashion, winning 2 of their first 6 games, they went on a winning streak unmatched by most domestic T20 teams. They won 14 games in a row, stretching from mid-IPL to the CLT20 final, where it unfortunately ended when they were on the cusp of one of the most fairytale seasons in domestic T20 history. A win in the final would have technically made them the most successful IPL team along with CSK, with two IPL wins and a CLT20 win, but that wasn’t to be.
Because CSK, controversies or not, irrespective of how conveniently most controversies seem to favour them, stamped their dominance in a rematch of their first of the tournament. An opening game loss to KKR had put them on tricky ground, but when are Dhoni’s men ever out of it?
Chennai Super Kings
Possibly the greatest T20 team since the inception of IPL back in 2008, this was CSK’s second CLT20 Final, and its first since its maiden win back in 2010. 2014 was also their least successful IPL season, because reaching the playoffs just isn’t enough for a team of this caliber, especially after the reshuffle, when the core of their previous team was still in place. The Kings XI Punjab and KKR pretty much dominated the IPL season with a new brand of cricket, but CSK hit back in this tournament—by demolishing KXIP in the semifinal, and then absolutely destroying KKR in the final. This was after they limped through the group stages ahead of Lahore Lions, who coincidentally too lost their top spinner in Adnan Rasool (and later, Hafeez) to ICC’s sudden obsession with full sleeves and elbow angles after being asleep for years.
As it turned out, the international stars failed to put up much of a fight, and once again, it was Suresh Raina who proved that he has well and truly made a comeback to top-flight cricket. His whirlwind century made a mockery of KKR’s par score, and made him the only batsman ever to score an international T20 century as well as a century in all tournaments of franchise cricket (in addition to ODI and test centuries). This is a second wind for the UP batsman, who seemed to have been figured out and lost his way after a test-failure in 2013.
STAT FACT: CSK have never failed to go past the group stages in six seasons of IPL cricket.
MI and CSK have won 4 of the last 5 CLT20 tournaments.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Gambhir’s men fell short of what could have been the perfect T20 season—the kind CSK enjoyed in 2010 (with the ‘Double’) and MI enjoyed in 2013. Nevertheless, they should walk away with their heads held high, because they were without their best bowler—a man who had taken 12 wickets in 5 games at less than 6 an over for the tournament. That Narine was not allowed to bowl in the final a day after being called for suspect action is unusual, which sounds like a massive favour to CSK (this was announced after CSK defeated KXIP in the semis). But this also goes to show how KKR suffer without their best bowler, and how much they depend on them for a balanced attack. Uthappa once again ended up as their top scorer for the tournament, and he has had a dream 2014 in T20 tournaments, but was still not selected for the West Indies ODIs coming up.
3 of the 4 IPL teams of CLT20 2014 made the semis (with MI crashing out in Qualifying itself), and this is a far cry from the first edition of CLT20 (in 2008, when New South Wales defeated fairytale finalists T&T, when Pollard hit the world scene) when none of the IPL teams made the semis.
Cricket-wise, IPL teams are dominating the T20 scene, also because most of their international players prefer playing for them instead of their real home teams—as was the case with Smith (chose CSK over Barbados), Duminy who was unavailable for Cape Cobras, Bailey who chose to captain KXIP over Hobart Hurricanes, and the list goes on.
Player of the Tournament: Suresh Raina