When Ravindra Jadeja flicked the final ball of the innings past a short fine leg off Mohit Sharma for a title winning four, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, undoubtedly the most decorated Indian cricketer ever, shed a solemn tear.
The emotions, attachment and his deep-seated desire to win was evident. In a game that has been dominated by the likes of young talent, it was the nerves of steel displayed by one of the best all-rounders of all time, that finally took CSK over the line.
The impact of Dhoni on the game of cricket, especially in the shorter formats of the game and what it means for India was poetically put forth by Hardik Pandya when he said, “God’s been kind to me as well, but I think God gave him a little better today.”
Shubhman Gill, probably the one that most deserves to take the mantle when Virat Kohli finally decides to hang up his boots got the Titans rolling after MSD won the toss and put the opposition into bat.
Gill and Saha have been a prolific opening combination that has been able to establish the right foundation for the likes of the Pandyas and Millers to go berserk at the later stages of the innings. They started in ominous fashion with Gill finding the gaps and Saha playing a worthy counterfoil.
But then, there was a moment an almost spark of brilliance when a supposedly old MSD showed lightning-quick reflexes to catch Gill out of his crease off a Jadeja off-break. The result, bails were dislodged in 0.10 seconds- WHAT!!!
Another moment of MSD magic was witnessed by 30 million people watching the final.
While Gill departed, in walked in a 20-year old Sai Sudarshan. A rising batsmen from Tamil Nadu who was first identified by Ravichandran Ashwin and picked up by the Titans for a base price of a mere 20 lakhs. Saha and Sudarshan plundered the CSK bowling line-up to all corners of the Narendra Modi stadium.
Saha has a thing of playing big knocks when it matters. Remember his prolific 114 not out against KKR in the finals? He went about his business completing his 50 in 38 balls. However, the standout performer for the Titans was Sudarshan.
The swashbuckling southpaw displayed a rare blend of power hitting blending it beautifully with knowledgeable cricketing shots finding gaps and taking the Titans well over the 200 run mark. Sudarshan eventually fell short of just a century, but the youngster did his job well.
Titans ended with the highest ever total ever posted in an IPL final- 214. CSK had their job cut out needing 215 against a bowling line-up that included the likes of the top 3 highest wicket taking bowlers in IPL 2023- Mohammad Shami, Rashid Khan and Mohit Sharma.
The rain gods came down. The revised score that CSK needed to get- 171 in 15 overs. Not a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination.
Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devon Conway got the innings underway. The duo put together 50 in just over three overs and CSK were well underway in the chase.
Convoy looked the more dangerous of the two as he threatened to run away with the match with his lusty hitting. It was Noor Ahmed who got Titans back into the match with two quick wickets sending Gaikwad and Conway back into the pavilion.
CSK seemed to have rejigged their batting line-up. Look at what they have done to Ajinkya Rahane. The modest Rahane emerged as one of the power-hitters in the tournament. The license to hit meant that Rahane would come in and smash two sixes and fours before Pandya could even process what was going on.
A quickfire splash from Rayudu and a gutsy performance from Shivam Dube meant that CSK were in spitting distance from the trophy. Finally, it came down to Mohit Sharma, another decorated statesman and Jadeja. It was two mid-thirty-year-olds who had the fate of their teams in their hands.
With 10 to get off the last two balls, Sharma aimed for the perfect yorker, only for Sir Jadeja to go back deep into the crease, get underneath the ball and lift it heroically over the long-on boundary for an emphatic six!
CSK needed 4 off the final ball. MSD and Stephen Fleming could not watch. Sharma dragged it towards the leg, and Jadeja with all his years of experience did not try to hit the ball to hard. His game mind knew that fine leg was inside the circle and if he could just beat the man with a deft touch, the ball would race to the boundary.
That is what happened. Jadeja came to the party as he always does to cement his position as one of the best talents to have ever graced the shorter formats of the game.
While the match was played at the home ground of the Gujarat Titans, MSD has this rare ability to make every cricket stadium in the country his very own. The CSK fans erupted not only in the stadium but in homes across India at 2 AM at night!
What it means to win for MSD was evident by the tears and the lifting of Jadeja. A lot has been said about the Jadeja-MSD rift by several quarters, but the deep-rooted friendship was there for all to see during the winning celebrations.
In typical Dhoni fashion, he allowed his team to bask in the trophy celebrations himself taking a backseat like he always does. This is something that we have seen play out time and again in finals over the decades.
What MSD means to CSK or to Indian cricket in general can never be put into words. He has the ingredients, the recipes that he can concoct at any time he wants to put a winning team and formula in place.
A quick word for someone that has really silenced his doubters- Mr. Hardik Pandya. People don’t usually speak or write about losing captains but Mr Pandya, congratulations, you showed a hell of a lot of promise, grace, and captainship throughout the tournament.
Indian selectors would have keenly watched this gem of a cricketer from Baroda that showed immense maturity leading the Titans across two seasons beautifully. He is able to mobilize his resources, bring the best out of them and is not afraid of PDA as far as his troops go.
This is great for Indian cricket in general. Pandya is the future as far as the captaincy of the Indian team is concerned, period. If Gill is to be the hero that leads the Indian batting line-up for the next five-to-ten years, it has to be Pandya leading the team.
The IPL lived up to its bill of being one of the most entertaining sporting tournaments in the world. While the NFL might have its Superbowl, and the NBA has its Play-Offs, the subcontinent has the IPL, and by God, are we proud of the talent and performance we put up.
Thank you, IPL, CSK, and MSD, for the best two months of the year!
Signing off and praying that we are going to see Thala once again don the yellow for CSK in 2024…