A strike into the crowd off the last ball to win the match? You’d imagine being thrilled at the end of such a contest. However, despite Chennai Super Kings defeating Rajasthan Royals with a last-ball six on Thursday night, the finish felt rather anticlimactic.
Chennai completed the double against Rajasthan this season, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni becoming the first player to captain a side to 100 victories in the Indian Premier League [95 for CSK and five for Rising Pune Supergiant], but the clash at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur will be remembered more for the drama that happened in the last over... a last over that no one saw coming.
Having lost the toss, Rajasthan managed just two brief periods of success with the bat – one right at the beginning and one right at the end. Everything in between these two periods was an exhibition of disciplined bowling from the Super Kings and poor shot selection from the Royals.
The hosts got off to a flyer thanks to skipper Ajinkya Rahane and Jos Buttler. They got to 31 runs in 16 balls before Rahane threw away yet another opportunity. The right-hander’s barren run with the bat must surely concern the Royals camp. Apart from the 70 he got against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Rajasthan’s second match, the 30-year-old has managed just 68 runs from five innings.
Once Rahane was back in the shed, the champions of the inaugural season lost wickets at a steady rate. The first of which was Buttler in the very next over. The Englishman, who is his team’s biggest weapon with the bat, hit a hat-trick of boundaries before attempting a fourth one and perishing.
Mitchell Santner removed Sanju Samson in the sixth over, followed by Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur and Ravindra Jadeja picking two wickets apiece as Rajasthan reached 133/7 at the start of the last over. Shreyas Gopal and Jofra Archer then provided the much-needed flourish by smashing Thakur for 18 runs off the final six deliveries.
False start for CSK
It wasn’t an imposing total by any stretch, but a competitive one on a track that was assisting both spinners and pacers. Unlike the Royals, though, the Super Kings struggled with the bat from the get go. They stumbled their way to 24/4 in 5.5 overs and a second defeat of the season seemed likely.
Chennai’s top order was blown away largely due to Rajasthan’s brilliance in the field. Faf du Plessis was removed thanks to a magnificent effort from Rahul Tripathi on the run at deep square-leg. A careless Suresh Raina was then run-out by a direct hit from Archer at short-fine. Lastly, Ben Stokes took arguably the catch of the tournament at point to send Kedar Jadhav packing.
Although the defending champions needed 128 runs to win from 85 deliveries with just two proper batsmen left, they weren’t at all out of contention. That was, of course, due to the fact that they still had their trump card up their sleeve – captain Dhoni.
The 37-year-old, who had scored 156 runs in four innings with three not outs so far this season, got together with Ambati Rayudu to resurrect the innings. The duo took calculated risks and guided CSK to 119 in 17.3 overs, before Rayudu got out for a well-compiled 57 off 47.
Even at that stage, the visitors required 33 more runs to win from just 14 deliveries. Dhoni seemed to have run out of gas and was panting heavily after taking twos. There was even a fear of him suffering from concussion as he had been hit flush on the helmet by an Archer bouncer in the 17th over.
The veteran fought on, though, and powered his team to 134/5 at the start of the final over. With 18 more to get and Dhoni gasping for breath, Rajasthan looked set to notch up their second victory of the season. Alas, things didn’t play out as one would’ve expected in the last over bowled by Stokes.
Here’s what happened
Jadeja hits the most ridiculous six one would ever see on a cricket field. The ball is full and wide but the left-hander still goes for it. He falls face-first after connecting with the ball and still, miraculously, manages to send it straight back over the rope. Stokes, too, falls in his follow through and it makes for a photograph for the ages as both players lay down and stare at the ball sail away. CSK need 12 from five now.
Stokes oversteps and Jadeja slaps it away to sweeper-cover for a single. Dhoni is on strike now and CSK need 10 off five. The visitors are in the driver’s seat out of nowhere.
This time the ball is pitched slightly short and Dhoni slaps it down to long-on for two. He doesn’t connect well and that enables him to come back for the second. CSK need eight off four now.
Dhoni is clean-bowled by a sizzling yorker from Stokes. It’s pitch-perfect from the right-arm pacer as the CSK captain’s massive back lift gives him no chance of keeping that one out. Dhoni walks back for a heroic 43-ball 58. Chennai now need eight runs to win from the last three balls.
This is a delivery that might just stick to Dhoni’s legacy as years go by. Yes, he had perished off the last ball but this one, too, was all about him. Stokes bowls a slower full-toss and Santner hits it to long-on and picks up two. The umpire at the bowler’s end, Ulhas Gandhe, raises his arm in an instant to signal a no ball for height. But that call is immediately overruled by square-leg umpire Bruce Oxenford who reckons the delivery wasn’t above waist height. And that’s when things spiral out of control.
Dhoni marches straight out to the pitch and points his finger at umpire Gandhe, suggesting that it should be a no ball since the signal for it was given first. Gandhe, Oxenford, Dhoni, Jadeja, Rahane, Stokes and Steve Smith get together for an animated discussion, before the CSK captain walks back and the non no-ball call stands.
Now, there are two factors to consider here. First, it wasn’t Gandhe’s business declaring the no-ball. Since it was for height, it was square-leg umpire Oxenford’s call to make. But once the no ball call had been made, how could it have been retracted on the spot? This was yet another example of poor umpiring in this season of the IPL.
Secondly, and more importantly, Dhoni was way out of line for walking out to the middle in such a manner. In fact, it was nothing short of outrageous. Former Australian opener Michael Slater said in commentary that he’d never seen anything like this, with his views echoed by many on social media, and Dhoni surely set the wrong precedent by treating the match like a club-cricket contest. He was fined half his match fee for his misconduct but one would imagine a harsher punishment wouldn’t have been unfair.
A slower ball well outside off, Santner stretches and somehow swats it away to long-on for two. CSK need four from the last ball. The New Zealand international is rotating the strike well up until now but surely a boundary in such a high-pressure situation has to be too tall a task for him?
Stokes tries to dart it across Santner from over the wicket but the ball is angled too far and ends up being a wide. CSK still have hope, they need three off the final delivery.
Santner completes Chennai’s sensational last-over comeback with a huge six. The left-hander walks slightly across and Stokes, attempting a yorker, bowls it right in the slot. Santner remains still, swings his bat and the ball sails all the way to send the CSK dugout into delirium.
Similar story for Stokes, Rajasthan and Chennai
This, of course, isn’t the first time Stokes has let his nerves get the better of him while bowling in the last over. Who can ever forget the four sixes West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite smashed against him in the World T20 final in 2016. England will be hoping their star all-rounder finds some form ahead of the World Cup at home in less than two months.
Dhoni’s rare misdemeanor may have robbed the sheen off Chennai Super Kings’ victory on Thursday night, but the three-time champions showed once again how to get the job done. Down and out at one point in the chase, they didn’t panic right till the end.
Rajasthan Royals, on the other hand, ended up on the losing side in yet another match where they didn’t play too badly. Perhaps, taking a leaf out of CSK’s find-a-way-to-win book is the need of the hour for them.