There were many things happening around the sports world on Sunday night. 20-year-old German player Alexandr Zverev won the Rome Masters ATP title, defeating four-time champion Novak Djokovic in the final, becoming the youngest player since Djokovic (he was 19 in 2007 when he won Miami) to win a Masters title – finally signaling the serious arrival of the next generation in the male game.
Arsenal was on their way to fifth place – the first time in 20 years that they missed on out on the top 4 and a Champions League spot under Arsene Wenger in the English Premier League. Liverpool was on their way to fourth place and a Champions League qualification spot – only the second time in six years they’ve done so. Juventus was on their way to a famous treble, winning Serie A after the Italian Cup, now waiting for the Champions League final against Real Madrid on June 3rd. Real Madrid was on their way to a 2-0 victory in the final game of La Liga, which meant that they won their first league title since 2012, defeating Barcelona by three points. And Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United was on their way to…finishing sixth.
C for Cricket
But our attention was elsewhere. As was Mick Jagger’s, going by his Twitter timeline. It was the Final game of the tenth edition of the Indian T20 League: a derby.
Mumbai Indians v/s Rising Pune Supergiant. Eyes were being rolled across the country when Mumbai posted a paltry total of 129 in the first innings in Hyderabad.
Pune was expected to sale through without much trouble, especially when they were 76/1 after 12 overs, with a set Ajinkya Rahane at the crease and captain Steve Smith doing what Aussies do best – putting his calm foot forward in the Final of a major tournament.
An hour later, it was all over. Steve Smith was a broken man.
Somehow, out of nowhere, his team had contrived to lose the match despite losing only 5 wickets, as compared to Mumbai’s 8. They fell SHORT of a target of 129 – a record on its own – by one run. Needing 11 runs of the final over, they managed only nine, despite a four off the first ball. Mitchell Johnson scalped both Manoj Tiwary and Steve Smith in consecutive balls, leaving Daniel Christian four to get off the final ball. Christian managed only two. And that was that.
Mumbai Indians won their third T20 title – the first team in the tournament’s history to do so. Rohit Sharma became the first captain to win three titles – and the first player to win four (he won the 2009 title as a player with the Deccan Chargers). 129 became the lowest T20 target ever defended in a final. The last time a total lower than this had ever been defended was back in 2013. Mumbai had not one batsman in the top 10 scorers of the season. This was also the first time in four attempts Mumbai had defeated bogey team Pune in 2017. This was the first time since the opening season finale – between Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings – that a decider had come down to the final ball of the tournament. It was also the first time since the opening season that a team topping the group stages actually went on to win the title. Ben Stokes became the second player ever to win the Man of the Tournament title in his debut season – after Shane Watson did for the Royals in 2008.
There were five talking points of perhaps the tournament’s greatest Final:
Top Order Collapse
At one stage in Pune’s innings, the comparative scores after 13 overs flashed on the screen. At this stage: Pune 79/2, Mumbai 79/7. Mumbai’s top order had collapsed early after a sluggish start, with only Rohit Sharma looking good until he slammed Adam Zampa straight down deep midwicket’s throat. Once he went, they all followed. This felt like a non-contest until Krunal Pandya – Mumbai’s favourite crisis man – fought in the final three overs to give them a respectable total. This wasn’t the first time the Mumbai top order had underwhelmed. But somehow, their bowlers again outshone the batsmen.
Jaidev Unadkat’s Streak
Pune’s performer of the season, left-armer Unadkat, scalped with two openers of Mumbai within his first two overs, giving away only six runs. He set the tone for his teammates, who were fielding well and making life very difficult for their “big brother” team. Unadkat’s control over his slower balls and pace has been the biggest takeaway of Pune’s heroic run to the final.
Dan Not The Man
Dan Christian bowled the 18th and 20th overs in the first innings, and Krunal took a liking to his pace, taking 27 runs off those two overs at a crucial stage when Mumbai looked in danger of not passing 110. These runs proved crucial in the end, and it was cruel irony that Christian was the man at the crease when his team went down.
Caution The Word
Pune chased the score with utmost caution – characterized by Steve Smith’s presence. He was once 28 off 39 balls, hoping to accelerate with some support towards the end. But that support never came. He had to do it himself, and as we know, Smith isn’t the biggest of six-hitters. He perished in the final over when he couldn’t get Johnson over the ropes. Rarely do teams look comfortable in a chase of 129 and still somehow manage to lose the plot towards the end. Needing 30 off 3 with 7 wickets in hand is an ideal situation only if you have someone like Stokes waiting to come in. But Stokes, as we know, was back in England preparing for the Champions Trophy.
The ‘Four’ Conundrum
Sending in MS Dhoni at 4 proved to be a fatal error, given that Manoj Tiwary had looked Pune’s best batsman for the second half of their campaign. Dhoni takes a while to get going, and with a similar grafter at the other end (Smith), they struggled and prodded around until it got a little out of hand. By the time Tiwary came, the required run rate had gone up to 9, on a slow pitch on a big ground.
Bowling heroes: Jasprit Bumrah, Mitchell Johnson
Batting heroes: Krunal Pandya
Fielding heroes: Kieron Pollard, Ambati Rayadu (for Smith’s catch)