They say some things are written in the stars. The Chennai Super Kings, easily among the most venerated teams cricket has ever known, have won the IPL in their comeback year. Hitting the winnings runs was Ambati Rayudu, the story of this tournament, and a hardworking man who finally scaled the heights he has always promised. Alongside him stood Shane Watson, runless in his first 10 balls, but finished with a strike-rate in excess of 200. MS Dhoni had said after the monumental chase against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the league stage, that the trick lies in picking your bowlers, and Watson and CSK were magnificent in picking theirs on the night of the final.
Pictures tell a story, as did the bowling card for the Sunrisers. 41 runs from the eight overs between Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan, and a staggering 140 from the 10 bowled by the rest. Emerging out of the dugouts with 178 runs to defend, SRH must’ve felt that they have enough to give CSK a serious run for their money; and yet, the match getting practically sealed by the 13th over wasn’t because a great bowling attack had suddenly coming unstuck on the big day. This had been a slow decline, one which Kane Williamson and the management were unable to stop.
The Sunrisers were the first team to qualify for the playoffs, displaying some stunning cricket, led by Williamson and a scarily potent bowling attack. It was incidentally in their match at Pune against the Super Kings, when, asked to defend a similar 179, they allowed CSK to romp home with eight wickets in hand. The bowling card looked shabby with the exception of Rashid, who only gave away 25 from his four overs. At Bangalore against RCB, when they bowled first and gave away 218, Rashid's figures read 3 for 27. It is a pattern that has continued since, which is a testament to the quality Rashid brings to the table.
As does Bhuvaneshwar, who must be considered amongst the finest all-format bowlers in the world. One could understand Williamson’s temptation to get an early third over out of Bhuvi in the final, given the astonishing first two he had bowled. Watson’s reluctance to take any risks against him in the Powerplay said a lot about the respect the CSK camp had for him.
Bhuvaneshwar hasn’t had a smooth season, missing a few games here and there due to minor niggles, and the Sunrisers’ bowling attack had covered for him beautifully, until that wretched match at Pune. That game included, SRH lost four of their last five leading into the final, and it was their highly-lauded bowling attack giving way every time.
In those five matches, Rashid conceded a measly 113 runs from his full quota of 20, at 5.65 per over. These are numbers which should keep eyebrows raised for a very long time. Bhuvaneshwar had a less than ideal lead up too, giving away 8.2 runs per over in the four matches he played out of those five. Between them, Rashid and Bhuvaneshwar were going for only 6.7 an over.
As with close-up photographs, sometimes the subjects assume a character so big, everything in the background gets blurred out, their details barely visible. With Williamson, Bhuvaneshwar and Rashid in the side, it took keen eyes to spot the others. The supporting cast for SRH’s bowling attack, magnificent for such a large part of the season, were conceding 10.1 runs an over in those last five matches. Sandeep Sharma, Siddhant Kaul and Shakib al-Hasan could barely get a thing right with the ball, and their economy rates give little room to the captain to arrest the slide. Williamson tried out his options in Basil Thampi and KK Ahmed, but didn’t get the returns or at least a promising sign he so desperately needed.
So when it came down to the big day, 178 proved too little against a batting lineup which had chased down 180+ scores thrice before in this tournament. By playing out Bhuvaneshwar and Rashid, Chennai gave themselves a steep hill to climb, but like most champion sides, they had worked out the percentages and knew their best chance lay in going all-out on the Sandeeps and Siddhants. These are also relatively younger bowlers in terms of their experience at this level, and thus also make for softer targets than a Bhuvaneshwar, who is by default the go-to bowler for whichever team he plays for.
The Sunrisers have a young team, and will emerge richer from this experience, for they came up against a team boasting of some colossal T20 players and bonafide IPL legends. If the bowlers can spend enough time around someone like Bhuvaneshwar or Rashid, and learn how to keep the basics in place, they will be a formidable force for years to come.