Sometimes you just have one of those days. If starts with you leaving the house wearing odd shoes. Then you spill your morning coffee on your light coloured trousers before missing the bus and getting caught in the rain. You haven’t done anything wrong, it is just that on this particular occasion the universe has decided to be a bit of a dick.
MS Dhoni and his Rising Pune Supergiants had one of those days on Friday at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune. Ishant Sharma aside, all of his bowlers did well against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, with Rajat Bhatia’s wobbly medium pacers proving particularly impressive. But that didn’t make any difference as Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers put on an absolute masterclass of T20 batting.
While Kohli looked to rotate the strike, de Villiers set about demolishing the bowling. He was top edging sweepshots for six in an innings that had a fair amount of good fortune in it but it also had brutality in equal measure. There was a point in the middle of the innings where it looked like Rising Pune Supergiants had kept the two brilliant batsmen quiet enough that they would set a total that was within reach, but then Kohli put his foot down and accelerated off into the distance like a street racer pushing the nitrous oxide button.
Kohli shouldn’t even have still been at the crease. When he was on his run-a-ball 50, there was a massive appeal from Ravichandran Ashwin for leg-before. It was close, in fact it was so close that it clearly should have been given. If there had been DRS in this match the not out call by the umpire would have been overturned very quickly when it became obvious that the ball would have gone on to smash into the middle and leg stumps.
As it was Kohli survived, and the very next ball he played an ugly slog across the line and hit the ball straight up in the air. It was a steepling catch, but one that should have been taken. Ankit Sharma dropped it and Kohli had got ridiculously lucky twice in two balls. When Kohli departed 12 balls later he had put on another 29 runs to finish with a 63 ball 80. It really was just one of those days.
Both Kohli and de Villiers departed in the final over, but by then they had already taken the total to something that was most likely beyond the Pune side. As it was the universe had not finished conspiring against the Supergiants. Faf du Plessis fell early to bring Kevin Pietersen to the crease. For the home side to reach a target of 186 they would need KP to perform well. His first ball was back of a length delivery from Kane Richardson which Pietersen pushed into the off side on the back foot. He seemed to land awkwardly and appeared to pull his calf. He was in too much pain to carry on and he could well miss the rest of the tournament.
Just at the point where you thought things could not get any worse in the next over Harshal Patel bowled a slower ball that deceived Steve Smith. There was a big appeal for lbw that was turned down and Smith wandered down the track looking for a single. As he turned to return to his crease he slipped and a direct hit from Kohli ran him out. Pune were effectively 18-3 in the third over of the game.
If anyone was going to use skill, luck and force of will to win a game from that position it was MS Dhoni. The Indian limited-overs captain has been as fortunate as any cricketer in history, regularly finding a way to win games when others would have given up.
In all of his 133 IPL matches he has only once walked to the crease earlier than this, he came out to bat at three in the second over against Delhi Daredevils in 2010. He had the time to build an innings in a way that he rarely does in T20 matches.
As Dhoni was struggling for timing (or playing himself in) Ajinkya Rahane was playing a steady knock at the other end. But by the halfway stage of the RPS innings the required rate was up to two runs a ball. A miracle was needed, but Dhoni is good at them.
The game looked to be over as he was going along at less than a run-a-ball and the required rate climbed. But such is the mystique that surrounds Dhoni that you couldn’t write his team off. All logic told you it was over, especially when you considered how much had gone against them so far in the match. Any second Dhoni was going to start blasting the ball down the ground for six.
When Rahane was out stumped off the bowling of debutant Tabraiz Shamsi the required rate was up to 14.5 an over and still Dhoni looked becalmed. He seemed unconcerned that the stars had aligned to ensure that his team would lose this game. Then he tried to hit the ball down the ground for six and was caught at long off. Game over.
The Moirai sisters had decided the Rising Pune Supergiants were losing this game, even Captain Cool and chasing genius MS Dhoni couldn't do anything to stop it. Some lusty blows from Thisara Perera made the result seem closer than it was, but when the universe is against you there is nothing you can do.