IPL 2023: Ravindra Jadeja’s six and four off last two balls gives CSK fifth IPL title

A final that dragged on for three days, that was supposed to begin on Sunday evening but finished in the early hours of Tuesday, ended with Ravindra Jadeja smacking 10 runs off the last two balls of the game to claim CSK’s fifth IPL title. The rain-lag seemed endless but in the end it turned out to be a horribly gripping match on an uproarious night—or dawn?—that ended in crushing heartbreak for the Titans and pure and spontaneous joy for CSK.

How CSK managed it in the end is astonishing and is hard to believe. But let us pick the game from the last over. MS Dhoni’s men required 14 off the last over to hunt down the revised target of 171 in 15 overs, not an insurmountable task.

But Mohit Sharma began with an inch-perfect over and took the game to the last two balls. Nerves clanged around the stadium; Dhoni sat with motionless eyes on his seat in the dug-out, Stephen Fleming’s eyes wandered into the skies, even the usually chirpy Ashish Nehra stood frozen in the tenseness of the moment. Sharma seemed to be a man in a hurry; Jadeja a picture of ice-veined poise. An uneasy excitement clutched the stadium, perhaps the hunch that something special was to unfold.

So it did, as Jadeja stayed back and crunched Sharma’s near-yorker to the distance of the moist night. More twitchy, sweaty moments ensued, but Sharma, a fairy-tale story of resurgence himself, bestowed with all the makings of a tragic-hero, strayed down the leg-side for Jadeja to shovel it past the fine-leg for four. Jadeja sprinted, helmet and bat aloft, like a mad moment. Catching his breath, sweat and raining dripping down his forehead, he said: “I was just thinking I need to swing hard, as much as I can. Where the ball will go, I was not thinking about that, just looking to swing hard. I was backing myself and looking to hit straight, because I know Mohit can bowl those slower balls.”

CSK players and spectators celebrated madly too, and when they reach home or hotel in the morning they might struggle to recollect those moments. An ecstatic blackout, a dream, or a psychedelic trip? It could be the most bizarre and gripping IPL final ever.

But the foundation of the win was laid by the openers. Intimidating though the revised target was, the CSK opening firm of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devon Conway began fearlessly, not letting any Titans’ bowler to settle. Gaikwad took on Shami, screaming a pair of fours in the first over. Devon Conway stepped out and lofted drove Hardik Pandya’s second ball of the second over beyond the extra-force. With Shami bleeding 11 runs in the next over—Conway again the aggressor—Titans introduced Rashid Khan. But it turned counterproductive as the pair ransacked 17 runs of the masterly leg-spinner. Gaikwad’s square-cut four of the last ball ringed in their 50-run stand in just four overs.

The gung-ho approach was no doubt necessitated by the circumstance. The required rate was too steep to stop or pause. Aggression had to be relentless, and there was no time for embracing percentage game. CSK had to fetch boundaries every over to keep the equation within achievable grasp. Some degree of risk-taking was inevitable, hence a wicket was always sniffing about. But Titans had to wait for the seventh over for their first, Gaikwad trying to disdain Noor Ahmad down the ground but miscuing to Rashid Khan at backward point. By then, though, CSK had blazed to 74 in 6.3 overs. Three balls later, Ahmad had Conway mishit to long-on and Titans were back in the game.

The left-arm wrist spinner has been a revelation in this tournament. Oftentimes, when batters get used to variations and angles, the novelty of a bowler wears off. But Ahmad has grown in stature with the tournament. As much as his variations, he has the knowhow to bowl which ball at what time to which batsman. He kept the marauding Shivam Dube quiet with leg-breaks, making him reach for the ball. Dube, when playing away from his body, is a neutered force. The pressure he piled on after the twin-wicket over was to tighten up the game, and indirectly resulted in the departure of Ajinkya Rahane for a 13-ball 27.

As lethal as Ahmad was, his idol Rashid Khan was unusually listless. First Rahane and Dube targeted him. The successive sixes of the last balls of his third would change the game. From 51 off 20 balls, CSK’s target was whittled down to 39 off 18 balls. Followed an eight-ball 19 cameo role, and CSK were sniffing their fifth title. But another twist kicked in. When the chase seemed a formality, Mohit Sharma, after being bruised by Rayudu, devoured him and MS Dhoni off successive balls. A tight Shani over would bring the game down to the wire.And how it ended. As though conceived in an alternative reality.

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