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Congrats Pune on winning the IPL

by Gaurav Sethi

That one of the weakest teams in the tournament made it this far, is nothing short of a coup

 Mumbai Indians, by far the strongest team on paper, and often on the field, went on to beat Rising Pune Supergiant, possibly the weakest team on paper by one run. Their matches though, were far from played on paper – how else would RPS have beaten MI three times in three matches in IPL10?

In their first match on 6th April, Steve Smith’s 84 flattened MI winning it off the penultimate ball of the match. In their second match on 24th April, MI went down by three runs failing to chase down 160. Their third match, the qualifier on 16th May, was the most one-sided of the three matches, MI lost by 20 runs.

Much changed with the two teams since the first match to the finals – for MI, Jos Buttler had to return and Mitchell McClenaghan was injured. For RPS, their talisman, Ben Stokes and long distance celebrator, Imran Tahir had to return. In the dress rehearsal to the finals, RPS had already beaten MI without these two – their lack of reputation on the field was already being overcompensated by ace strategy, doggedness in approach, and a never say die attitude, how else would such a team continue to punch way above its weight?

For RPS to make the finals, was already a victory of sorts. And if their brilliance in the field was any indicator, they were driven enough to close the game in the first innings itself. Jaydev Unadkat had showed enough smarts in the 11 matches before the final – he’d continued to bowl to a brief, a plan, a thought, a pitch. In his second over, he was bowling as per brief again, an off cutter to snare Parthiv Patel. Three balls later, and both Unadkat and RPS would believe they had caught the trophy out of thin air – it’s catches such as his that make a team believe and do incredible things. One handed, making the IPL stand still, it was that off cutter again. Unadkat ended 2/19, and 24 wickets off 12 matches, that he wasn’t the man of the finals was cricket’s con.

By now everyone would know Washington Sundar’s age down to the last day: If not, he’s 17 years, 229 days today. Often referred to as the 17-year-old this IPL, with an equal measure of awe and appall, Washington’s unusual name, at least for a Hindu, is his father’s tribute to his own cricketing mentor, P.D. Washington.

“I was poor and he would buy uniform for me, pay my school fee, get me books, take me to the ground in his cycle and constantly encourage me. My wife had a difficult delivery. But the baby survived. As per the Hindu custom, I whispered a God’s name, ‘Srinivasan,’ in his ear. But I decided to name him Washington in memory of the man who had done so much for me,”-  Washington’s father.

It now appears, another Washington is doing ‘so much’ for his dad. Washington Sundar had shown enough smarts in the 10 games going into the finals. Eight wickets at a stingy economy rate of barely 6 rpo, Washington had already flummoxed Rohit, Rayudu and Pollard in the play-offs. With that headache fresh in the mind, MI preferred not to mess with him in the finals. Much to KP’s annoyance, who repeatedly in the box voiced his scorn at MI’s batsmen for showing so much respect to a 17 year old. Hayden chipped in too. More often than not, experts have misread conditions, as in the finals’ pre-match show, where they expected no less than 190 to be a safe score for MI.

Washington Sundar bowled his 4 overs for 13 runs at an economy rate of 3.25 rpo. He bowled two of these overs in the power play, the second and fourth overs, against the openers, followed by Rohit and Rayudu. He conceded six runs in two power play overs. In his calm stillness, almost hermitlike, with his jet black hair plastered to his head, even if he could hear KP and Hayden, it would’ve made no difference. He was the birth of cool this IPL. That he took Ashwin’s place in the team is such sweet irony. He wasn’t just an off spinner, he was the nag of unflinching lines and lengths of an off spinner. That he wasn’t the man of the finals was cricket’s con.

A below par Ajinkya Rahane was almost balanced out by his opening partner, Rahul Tripathi. He struck at 146 to Rahane’s 118. Even though he played 14 to Rahane’s 16 games, he scored nine more runs than him. Not much but it was often his early impact that gave RPS wings upfront. His 93 off 52 balls blew KKR apart singlehandedly and made the IPL jerk itself up and nod vigorously – “who’s this dude?”

It was learnt through commentary again, somewhat patronisingly, that Tripathi’s parents had boarded the train earlier in the day to watch their son in the finals. Apparently, there’s a photograph to vouch for it.

Tripathi did not get going in the finals. The trigger happy umpire did. He was given out LBW to one that appeared to missing the stumps, even to the naked eye. That he wasn’t the man of the finals was cricket’s con.

MS Dhoni into his seventh IPL final, how many have there been? MS Dhoni in at 72/2 in the 12th over. Has the tailor made another final for Dhoni? It seemed so. End of the 15th over, RPS dragging a tad, 80/2. Make or break over, spinner, Krunal Pandya on. Third ball: Dhoni’s wrists fizz on to the ball, it’s cut behind point for four, is the tide turning for RPS again, for Dhoni again? It’s almost wake up time for MS anyway. As it is for Bumrah who has Dhoni caught behind.

Why almost everyone, (apart from Mumbaikars and those connected to MI because of SRT) was supporting Rising Pune Supergiant, was because of Dhoni.

It was as simple as that. RPS, in spite of their owner’s scorn, in spite of their slow start, in spite of their defeat, had still captured everyone’s imagination.

It was because of a 25 year old, a 17 year old, a 26 year old, and a 35 year old. The four Indians in what once seemed like an overseas’ team. Coached and captained by a New Zealander and an Australian.

Thank you, Stephen Fleming and Steven Smith, for raising the bar yet again. 

First published here

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