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Dad's Army overrun the Knights as MS Dhoni's CSK lift fourth IPL title

Faf du Plessis emerged as the leading run-scorer of the contest, smashing 86 off 59 balls.  
Deepak Chahar celebrates after dismissing Shubman Gill in IPL 2021 final. (IPL)
Updated on Oct 16, 2021 08:29 AM IST
BySomshuvra Laha, Kolkata

Was it all part of the act, MS Dhoni claiming he too would have bowled first? Setting a target is always the wiser choice in a final. Go back in time and you will find two out of Chennai Super Kings’ previous three title wins came defending. Rather conservative in his ways despite the format’s demands, Dhoni, captaining his 300th T20, looks more at ease exerting pressure as bowling captain than masterminding a chase. So no surprises that Chennai Super Kings lost the toss, batted first and won by 27 runs to lift their fourth Indian Premier League title.

No surprises, but extraordinary nonetheless. The man who captained CSK to the inaugural IPL final in 2008, won back-to-back trophies in 2010-11, with a team that continues to rely on multiple players who don't otherwise play international cricket, winning yet another title in a season that was almost felled by the pandemic. With this CSK is now just one shy of Mumbai Indians' record five titles and KKR remain on two titles.

Where it went off script for KKR was that their bowling attack—barring Sunil Narine of course—suffered a bad day in office. Lockie Ferguson averaged 14 per over, Shakib Al Hasan 11 and Varun Chakaravarthy—who hadn’t conceded more than 26 off his four overs through the season—9.5. Three of KKR’s best bowlers all season accounted for 127 of the 192 runs CSK garnered after Shivam Mavi limited the damage with a seven-run final over. Perhaps KKR didn’t see it coming. Having restricted Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Capitals to under 140 at a smaller ground like Sharjah, KKR couldn’t be faulted for going with an unchanged team and relying on their usual matchups. Six of the last seven matches in Dubai had seen the chasing side win.

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But this Dubai pitch—used for the second time since the first IPL match in the UAE leg—was a belter. KKR erred in their lengths, weren’t as flexible as they should have been and were sloppy in the field. Once again, CSK openers Faf du Plessis and Ruturaj Gaikwad set them up for a huge total with a 61-run partnership. It shouldn’t have been more than 10. But Dinesh Karthik failed to react quickly to a loopy Shakib delivery that lured du Plessis into leaving his crease. Stumping survived, du Plessis didn’t give KKR a second chance. When he finally holed out to Venkatesh Iyer at long-on off the last ball of the innings, he had taken CSK to 192.

Between that missed stumping and the last ball, CSK didn’t lift their foot off the pedal. Where KKR started to go off the boil was by sticking to their matchups too long. Statistics said du Plessis had a strike rate of 117 against left-arm spin so trying Shakib made sense. But he saw him off easily and even lifted Shakib for a six over wide long-off. Historically, Robin Uthappa isn’t too fluent against spin as well. But on Friday, he hit Shakib, Chakaravarthy and Narine for a six apiece to maintain the tempo. When he was dismissed, Moeen Ali took over. Du Plessis was the perfect anchor, pacing his innings by seeing off the spinners and attacking the pacers while the rest took their chances. The acceleration was steady. From 50/0 after the Powerplay, CSK moved to 80/1 at the halfway mark, 131/2 after 15 overs before adding 61 off the last five overs. By as early as the 15th over, KKR captain Eoin Morgan was staring at a huge chase.

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Still the target was six less than what KKR had chased to win the IPL in 2014. But this side is comparatively inexperienced. And an injury scare to Rahul Tripathi meant KKR had to promote Narine. KKR needed more than just luck going their way. And it came in the form of two reprieves. Nine balls into KKR’s innings, Venkatesh Iyer got a thick outside edge off a short ball from Josh Hazlewood but Dhoni couldn’t hold on to a simple catch. It probably hurt more when Shubman Gill was sent back to the crease after his skier touched the Spider Cam cable on its way to Ambati Rayudu’s safe hands. Iyer, who has had a brilliant debut season, continued to shine, slogging the left-hand slowers from Ravindra Jadeja for two huge sixes after taking a toll on Hazlewood, Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur.

With Iyer gone—caught brilliantly by Jadeja in the deep—the onus was on Gill to emulate du Plessis’s role. But he buckled under the pressure and walked across the stumps to a dead-straight Chahar delivery, ending up being struck plumb on his pads after doing all the hard work in a 43-ball 51. That dismissal brought Morgan and Karthik, KKR’s two biggest international stars, but CSK were in cruise mode by then, turning the screws on the batters through Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo and Thakur. Jadeja was particularly unstoppable, be it in the field or with the ball. After making Iyer’s catch look regulation, Jadeja held on to an absolutely stinger from Narine on the edge of deep midwicket boundary. Right after the over Gill was dismissed, Jadeja came back to knock the stuffing out of KKR with the two huge wickets of Karthik and Shakib. Perhaps weighed down by his poor form, Karthik was all urgency looking to play his shots. But this wasn’t Sharjah. So the ball that would have cleared the ropes in Sharjah found Rayudu at deep backward square-leg in Dubai.

One ball later, Jadeja hoodwinked Shakib with a flat and quick delivery that struck him flush in front of middle stump. With CSK chipping away at KKR’s batting, Morgan couldn’t have pulled off the chase alone. Tripathi didn’t last long, mistiming Thakur to Ali at long-on. The KKR captain joined him soon despite connecting well to a length delivery from Hazlewood. But CSK weren’t dropping any more catches. So this time it was Chahar’s turn to pull off the catch-release-catch drill at the boundary, timing his leap perfectly to dismiss Morgan on the second attempt and putting an end to his misery. Ferguson kept it interesting for a while but pressure had already had its final say on KKR’s chase, paving the way for a comfortable CSK victory.

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