CHENNAI: There was a resurgent Kolkata Knight Riders standing between Chennai Super Kings and a fourth IPL title. Behind Kolkata’s stunning turnaround - they were seventh when the UAE leg commenced - have been their openers Venkatesh Iyer and Shubman Gill, who have been ably supported by the likes of Rahul Tripathi, Nitish Rana and the likes.
But Friday's final was not about any of them. Chennai’s fate was fully dependent on how they would handle Kolkata’s mystery spinners, Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine.
The eight overs the duo were supposed to send down was the one which was going to tilt the tie. Between the two sides, there was not much to choose. Past history counts for little in finals. Especially in T20s. Chennai, wealth of experience, did start as favourites.
But not many teams have the sort of X-factor that Kolkata have in their ranks. One mystery spinner is a luxury to have in the XI. Kolkata have two and both happen to be contrasting bowlers. After Eoin Morgan won the toss and asked Chennai to bat first, the plan was clear.
They were sticking to what has been working for teams in Dubai. Chasing has been the norm with the last eight matches all won by teams batting second and even in a high-pressure final, Morgan chose to stick to that trend and his strength.
The plan for Chennai, who also would have chosen to field had they won the toss, was simple. Get more than a par total on board so that they don’t need to bother about dew factor. The onus to do so was on their form openers - Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis. In a tournament where they have attacked relentlessly, they have set the platform. On Friday, they delivered once again, racing to 42/0 at the end of five overs.
This is when Morgan brought in Varun and Narine from both ends. It was a make or break moment. Chennai knew it too and their openers were not even looking to shift gears against the two spinners. They were prepared to just play it around for ones and twos.
Between six to nine, the duo scored only one boundary, coming off a free-hit after Varun over-stepped. But they followed it by 13 deliveries that brought only 12 runs. The pressure was now getting to Chennai and Ruturaj, in an attempt to wrestle back the momentum, perished going for a big shot off Narine.
The middle-overs is where Chennai have attacked relentlessly scoring at 8.13 runs per over. And it is the same period where Kolkata have tightened the screws conceding only 7.02 an over. After 10 overs, Kolkata still had four overs from the duo and Chennai only had 80 on board. On this flat deck, Chennai needed at least 100 more from the last 10 overs.
After playing their their initial spells out, even with newcomer Robin Uthappa in, Chennai pressed the accelerator, scoring 15 and 17 off successive Shakib Al Hasan and Lockie Ferguson overs. It prompted Morgan to bring the mystery duo, who gave away seven and twelve runs.
Such was Chennai’s tempo that Morgan had no choice but to finish Narine's quota before the death, who ended his spell by removing Uthappa. The 19th over bowled by Varun went for 13 as the duo went for 64 runs in eight overs and accounting for only two wickets, which hardly affected Chennai.
With two of their best not able to do much, the rest had no chance as Chennai posted 192/3. Despite Iyer and Gill putting on 91 runs for the first wicket in 10.4 overs, Kolkata lost way and ended with only 165 on board as MS Dhoni lifted his fourth IPL title, courtesy 27-run win..
Brief scores: CSK 192/3 in 20 ovs (Du Plessis 86, Moeen 37 n.o) bt KKR 165/9 in 20 overs (V Iyer 50, S Gill 51; Thakur 3/38)
115: No of sixes hit by Chennai Super Kings. It is the highest for any team in the 2021 edition
2: This is the second time in the history of the IPL that two batters from the same franchise are 1, 2 in the run-scoring charts. Ruturaj Gaikwad is top with 635, followed by Faf du Plessis (633)