Just about after the halfway mark of the Indian Premier League (after Sunrisers Hyderabad had finished playing their 10th game – against Royal Challengers Bangalore – to be precise), would anyone have believed that a team will chase down 179 against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the final with nine balls and eight wickets to spare.
Halfway through the tournament, there was no debate as to which was the best bowling side of IPL 2018. It was the Sunrisers Hyderabad. No doubt. They were even talked of as the best bowling side ever in the IPL.
Sunrisers had, on paper, the best bowling side of this IPL. Rashid Khan: at 19, the world’s best in T20. Shakib Al Hasan: experienced, shrewd, his country’s leading wicket-taker. Siddharth Kaul: gaining a second wind and a place in the Indian team. Sandeep Sharma: an unforgiving miser with runs. And, Bhuvneshwar Kumar: one of the finest swing bowlers across formats and among the best in T20s. Sunrisers even won three matches on the trot without Bhuvi, defending totals of 118, 132 and 151 – all by more than 10 runs.
Masters of defence, they were called. On a format that’s said to favour the batters, Sunrisers strangulated teams with their bowlers.
Slide in bowling
But after a successful defence of 146 against the Royal Challengers Bangalore started the decline in the gold standard of bowling for Sunrisers. Till that game a team had scored over 170 against them only twice (Kings XI Punjab – thanks to a Gayle Storm – and Chennai Super Kings). But after the RCB game, for four games in a row, Sunrisers conceded over 170 and lost three of those games.
The hitherto miserly Kaul and Sandeep were being targeted by the opposition batsmen, who preferred not to take their chances against Bhuvneshwar in the opening overs and Rashid in the middle.
Before RCB game
After RCB game
Bhuvneshwar himself was taken apart in two games after the aforementioned RCB game. So, on Sunday night, when Sunrisers had posted 178 – two runs more than the par score in IPL finals – they didn’t have a sure-shot chance against the Chennai Super Kings, a team that has a reputation for chasing. CSK was also the only team SRH could not defeat this season, despite meeting them on four occasions (including Sunday’s final).
The total, nevertheless, was a challenging one. In seven of the 10 previous IPL finals, the team batting first had won it. Williamson would have hoped to capitalise on CSK’s pressure of a big-match chase and use his bowlers, who performed well against Kolkata Knight Riders in Qualifier 2, to suffocate them.
The way Bhuvneshwar started the second innings, Sunrisers’ total appeared bigger. The first ball – outside off, back off a length, beating the bat, the batsman looking surprised and then relieved – was a symptom of Bhuvneshwar being at his best. He bowled five more dots in that over. He can do this at Lord’s. He can do this in a high-scoring game in a final of a T20 tournament against a batsman with a 150-plus strike-rate.
Shane Watson played out a maiden in a T20 final. He, perhaps, hasn’t committed this offence before. Then he played four more dots. 10 balls up, where are the runs, Mr Watson?
The pressure definitely would have gotten to Watson had the Sunrisers bowled the good length deliveries. But Sandeep erred. The 11th ball Watson faced was oxygen in a high-altitude trek. It was over-pitched and outside off, and Watson used his immense power to send it past the bowler. He had broken the bowler’s stranglehold.
Sandeep erred against Watson again in his next over, bowling two straight innocuous sub-130 kph balls that he smashed for a four and a six. Watson, now, breathed easy.
In the next Sandeep over, Watson devoured length-ball offerings and plundered 26 runs off the over. The Australian, now, was a calamitous force of nature who could not be stopped.
When he finally stopped for the night, he’d become – the only person in the season to make two hundreds, only the second person to score a hundred whilst chasing in a T20 final, the fourth person to score two hundreds in an IPL season and yet again, an IPL champion.
After the final, Watson said he was glad to play the match-winning knock as “towards the back end of the tournament I was hanging on for dear life”.
Poor Sunrisers bowlers couldn’t hang on to theirs on Sunday.